LU Hoops advances to SLC Championship with 55-44 win over SFA
KATY – Lamar University and first year head coach Pat Knight stand just one win away from the Cardinals’ first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2000.
Playing at the Merrell Center for the second straight day, Lamar extended its winning streak to five games with a 55-44 win over Stephen F. Austin in Thursday’s first semifinal game. The Cardinals will take on the winner of the UT Arlington vs. McNeese State game Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.
After losing to the Lumberjacks 62-52 at home on Feb. 22, in a game that caused Knight to call out his seniors, Lamar would not be denied. The Cardinals opened a 26-19 lead at the half and continued to pull away in the second half.
“I took this job because there were players already here,” said Knight about his early success. “Coach (Steve) Roccaforte did a great job getting players here and he deserves a lot of credit. One of the reasons I wanted this job is because they already had talent here and I wanted to win right away.”
Lamar improved to 22-11 with the win, the Cardinals’ highest win total since Pat Foster’s squad finished 26-5 in 1983-84. SFA fell to 20-12 with the loss.
While Lamar did not score the nearly 75 points a game it has been averaging, the Cardinals played one of their best defensive games of the season. Lamar limited the second seeded Lumberjacks to 30.2 percent shooting, and the 44 points were the lowest total LU allowed this year.
“I think this was the best defensive game we’ve played this season,” said Knight. “Our zone worked well and the guys paid attention to the scouting report. We changed up our zone on some things that hurt us the last time (we played SFA) and we were really effective.”
Lamar used an eight minute stretch midway through the second half to put the game away. The Cardinals did not allow a point to SFA from the 14:20 mark until the 6:19 mark, while scoring 12 straight points and building a 44-26 lead.
Trailing by 17 with just under three minutes to play, SFA scored five straight points to cut LU’s lead to 49-37 with 1:53 on the clock. As they have all season, the Cardinals hit free throws down the stretch, getting two from Anthony Miles and two from Charlie Harper, to close the game out.
A 3-pointer by SFA’s Antonio Bostic with 35 seconds to play closed out the scoring, but by then Lamar was already celebrating its trip to the finals.
Lamar shot 50.0 percent from the floor in the second half to finish the game at 44.4 percent. Lamar committed just nine turnovers and made five more free throws than SFA to more than make up for a 40-29 rebound deficit.
The Cardinals, who are now 19-0 when leading at the half, closed the first half on a 9-2 run over the final 3:53. Miles, who led all players with 17 points, closed the half with a steal and breakaway layup that sent all the momentum into the Cardinals’ locker room.
“That was big for us,” said Miles about the final bucket of the first half. “I’ve been playing this game for a long time so I know some tricks and I saw that he (SFA’s Hal Bateman) had the ball up too high. I tried to make a play and I did. It was a big momentum play and we came out and kept it going in the second half.”
Miles not only had a big scoring day, but the Houston Clear Brook product added seven rebounds, five assists and five steals. LU’s point guard was 4-of-7 from the floor, 8-of-10 from the free throw line and did not commit a turnover in 35 minutes of playing time.
James added 14 points for Lamar, scoring 10 in the second half. Devon Lamb scored all 10 of his points in the first half, while Charlie Harper added 10 points and four rebounds off the Lamar bench.
Taylor Smith led the Lumberjacks with 14 points and eight rebounds. Jereal Scott scored nine points, but was just 3-of-10 from the floor, while Bostic, a first-team all-conference selection, managed just five points. Scott and Bostic combined for seven of SFA’s 14 turnovers.