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MEN’S BASKETBALL: Are Cardinals turning the corner?

ABILENE CHRISTIAN (18-4, 7-2) AT LAMAR (11-11, 4-4)

SOUTHLAND MEN; 7 TONIGHT, MONTAGNE CENTER, BEAUMONT; ESPN+/KLVI-AM 560

Being 11-11 overall and eighth place in the Southland Conference (at 4-4) may not exactly be what Lamar men’s basketball coach Tic Price envisioned for this point in the season.

Even with two fourth-year lettermen in center Josh Nzeakor and guard Nick Garth and four Division I transfers who mandatorily sat out last season, the Cardinals have found it tough to play through adversity.

“We had five concussions, so we have to go seven to 10 days before [the players who were concussed] can get back on the court,” the fifth-year head Cardinal said. “We had a couple of disruptions and suspensions and injuries, but we don’t like to use that as an excuse. It really forced us at the last minute to reshuffle the deck.

“We had a couple of guys who had a stomach virus and didn’t even make the trip [to McNeese State on Saturday]. It’s just been one thing after another. We just never really got any continuity or flow going, offensively or defensively.”

The Cards found a rhythm Saturday with a win at archrival McNeese State, 84-75. The win is their third in the past four games after losing three straight and four of five.

“Junior forward Christian Barrett earned the conference’s player of the week honor after scoring 17 points apiece in wins at defending regular-season co-champion Nicholls State and McNeese State.

“It’s all a mindset,” Barrett said. “I know we kind of started off slow, but each practice we were coming together, and it was just a focus point at that point to stay together to take it day-by-day and game-by-game and not really getting down on ourselves … but just know it’s not about how you start but how you finish.”

The Cardinals, who were predicted to finish fifth in the Southland, have won two straight to get themselves back in contention for a third straight appearance in the Southland Conference tournament, where only the top eight teams qualify. Price did say when the preseason poll was released that “polls are insignificant” and he was “far more concerned with polls at the end of the season”.

A win over Abilene Christian (18-4, 7-2 Southland) will give Lamar three straight victories for the first time since Dec. 19-29, when it defeated Texas Southern, Howard Payne and Champion Christian, all in Beaumont. The Cards are also looking to even the all-time series with the Wildcats at 15-15, but Abilene has won the last four meetings.

Price will take the way the Cards finished Saturday’s game if it has to get them past the Wildcats.

“Give our guys a lot of credit. They were very poised and very determined. They never lost their composure, when in the past they folded and cracked. I’m hoping we’re maturing, and these wins give us a little more confidence.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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