Exorcising Demons: Cards put three-game skid to rest with surge

BEAUMONT — This is the year of the freshman at Lamar.
Nick Garth sank a pair of clutch three-point baskets, one of them he may as well have called “bank” on. Josh Nzeakor forced Northwestern State to go for a three when he converted a contested layup off Kevin Booze’s 10th assist with just seconds remaining.
“Josh Nzeakor should probably buy Booze lunch, because he was a guy who got to the end of the pass and received the pass to score,” Lamar coach Tic Price said.
Garth (19 points, five assists) and Nzeakor (18 points, 15 rebounds) continued the freshman movement in Beaumont on Saturday, leading Lamar to an 86-82 win over the struggling Demons before a crowd of 1,825 at the Montagne Center. The victory snapped the Cardinals’ three-game losing streak.
“We proved we wanted to win,” Price said. “We beat a good Northwestern State team. Their record does not indicate how good they are.”
The Demons (3-12, 0-5 Southland) are really feeling the burn, having lost five in a row.
The Cardinal freshmen got much needed help as well. Senior Dontavious Sears registered his fourth double-double in a row, 19 points and 13 rebounds, and shot 8 of 14 from the floor.
Sophomore Booze, playing his first game since an elbow infection sidelined him for the previous two, had a season high in assists. All 10 of his dishes came in the second half.
“Elbow is still bothering me, but we got to go get a win, and I was willing to do whatever,” he said.
Lamar’s bench also dominated Northwestern State’s, 48-20.
Lamar (10-7, 2-3 Southland) failed to take care of the basketball with 14 first-half turnovers but finished with 18 to Northwestern State’s 13.
Lamar also made 63.6 percent of its field-goal attempts (21 of 33), finishing 51.8 percent (29 of 56) for the game. The Demons were 25 for 63 for 39.7 percent.
The Cardinals had to organize their usual comeback effort, trailing 59-47 with 14:28 remaining. Sears sparked a 14-2 run with a traditional three-point play, and Garth capped it with a pair of free throws at the 10:35 mark to force the first tie since it was 24-all. There were 12 ties and seven lead changes.
“We just came together and didn’t get on each other,” Garth said. “We stayed positive and got stops. We scored on the other end.”
The Demons scored six unanswered to regain the lead at 78-76, but Garth put that to rest with a three-ball at the 2:50 mark. On Lamar’s next possession, Garth banked a long trey with the shot clock winding down to make it an 82-78 game.
Zeek Woodley rebounded a missed free throw and scored the putback to pull the Demons within 83-82 with 42 seconds to go. But the Cardinals melted some clock and Booze found Nzeakor inside for a layup with 15 seconds remaining. The
Demons did not call timeout and quickly went for a three, which Sabri Thompson missed, and Nzeakor hit 1 of 2 at the line to seal the win.
Woodley, the nation’s leading returning scorer going into the season, was held to 11 points. He came into the game ranked seventh nationally in scoring at 22.9 points per game.
“Preston Mattingly did an outstanding job. That’s the guy who guarded Woodley the most,” Price said.
Ta’Jon Welcome had 21 points and Devonte Hall 15 for the Demons. Lincoln Davis scored 12 of his 13 points in the first half for the Cardinals, nailing 8 of 12 free throws in the process.
Lamar plays at Southeastern Louisiana (2-15, 0-4) at 7 p.m. Monday.

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