Lamar Men's Basketball falls in opening round of SLC Tournament
KATY, Texas – Junior Josh Nzeakor tied a career-high with 23 points, but Lamar University was held without a field goal for nearly eight minutes late in the second half as Central Arkansas rallied for a 67-57 victory Wednesday evening in the opening round of the Southland Conference Championship tournament.
The loss halted the Cardinals’ regular-season push for 20 wins one victory short, but LU may still have a shot at the CollegeInsider.com Tournament when the brackets are released later this week.
“Central Arkansas was the better team tonight,” said LU head coach Tic Price. “At the end of the day, they wanted it more. I thought we gave up way too many transition buckets. Late in the game we didn’t make stops and this is very disappointing for our team. What I have liked about this team all year long is that we could have folded at any point and we kept fighting.”
The Cardinals finished the night 23-of-62 (.371) from the field, and could never find the range from beyond the arc. Big Red missed its first seven three-point attempts and finished the game 4-of-26 (.154). LU was also outrebounded on the night, 38-32.
Led by Jordan Howard’s game-high 26 points, Central Arkansas shot nearly 47 percent from field, but just 5-of-18 (.278) from three-point range. Only five Bears scored in the game, but four of the five ended the night in double figures.
“Jordan is an incredible talent,” said Price. “He made some tough shots, and he is one of those players that can score from anywhere on the floor. We tried to deny him catching it as much as we could. We sent several different guys at him to slow him down, but he scored his average. The problem is that we allowed other players to score more than there averages tonight.”
Nzeakor got the Cardinals out to a quick start scoring the team’s first six point, and had 10 points in the game’s first nine minutes. The first non-Nzeakor basket didn’t come until the 16-minute mark from senior James Harrison. Nzeakor paced a 4-of-8 (.500) start for the Cardinals.
Despite a strong start for the Red and White, LU struggled to find its rhythm from long range. The Cardinals missed their first seven attempts from three-point range and finished the half 2-of-14 (.143). The Cardinals first three of the game came from senior Torey Noel with six minutes remaining in the half.
It was the exact opposite for Central Arkansas who opened the game just two for its first eight. The Bears turned to the 2018 Southland Player of the Year to get the offense going. Howard finished the half with 15 points as UCA converted eight of its next 12 attempts to take a six-point lead in the opening 20 minutes – the largest lead for either team in the half.
The Bears appeared to be taking that four-point lead into the locker room but sophomore T.J. Atwood knocked down baseline jumper to pull LU within two, 33-31, as time expired.
The second half started much the same as the first as Nzeakor scored the team’s first five points. Senior Colton Weisbrod got involved in the scoring act on the next possession as he scored and was fouled giving LU three and-one opportunities on consecutive possessions to start the half.
Nzeakor and Weisbrod sparked an 11-0 run as the Cardinals took an eight-point lead, 44-36, with 16:55 remaining in the contest. Of the Cardinals’ 11 points during the run, seven belonged to Nzeakor.
The 11-0 run was snapped at the free throw line when the Bears’ Matthew Mondesir went 1-of-2 at the stripe. UCA was able to flip the script moments later rattling off a 14-6 run to tie the game at 50 with 9:51 remaining in the contest.
Both teams opened the second half on fire as the Cardinals hit seven of their first 14, while the Bears converted 10 of their first 17. Despite the hot shooting, the Bears managed to push their run to 23-9 claiming a four-point advantage, 59-55, with just over four minutes remaining.
While the Bears continued their hot shooting, Big Red went cold not recording a basket for 7:57 before senior Zjori Bosha ended the drought with a basket in traffic with 1:07 remaining on the clock. Bosha’s basket trimmed the UCA lead to four, 61-57. The Cardinals were forced to put UCA at the free throw line in the final minute of the game but the Bears converted their opportunities for the win.