KATY, Texas – Lamar rolled off a 21-3 run in the final eight minutes of the first half to take a 13-point lead into the break then held off any kind of McNeese in the second half to cruise to an 80-59 win in the first round of the 2020 Hercules Tires Southland Conference Basketball Tournament on Wednesday night.
The Cowboys end their season at 15-17 overall while Lamar (17-15) advances to play No. 3 seed Nicholls in the second round on Thursday night at 7:30.
Cowboy senior Sha’markus Kennedy ended his McNeese career by recording his 17th double-double of the season after he scored 19 points with 15 rebounds. Junior A.J. Lawson led the team with 22 points but the glaring stat of the game came from the long ball where McNeese was held to just 1 of 14 from behind the arc while the nation’s 3-point leader, Dru Kuxhausen, was held to 0-for-6 from long range.
“I have to give Lamar a lot of credit,” said head coach Heath Schroyer whose Cowboys improved by six overall wins from last season and five conference victories. “Lamar came out and played really well. They were the more physical team and we couldn’t buy a basket for a while.”
McNeese opened up the game like it was ready to pick up its first postseason win since the 2014-15 season and led the Cardinals 16-9 after a Lawson jumper with just over 12 minutes to play in the first half.
After a 21-16 lead following a Roydell Brown basket plus-1 with 8:26 remaining, McNeese went cold from the floor missing its next seven shots while Lamar connected on seven of its next eight attempts to take a 33-21 lead with 3:01 to play.
The Cardinals made good on two more FG attempts to go up 37-23 before Lawson hit one of two free throws with five seconds to play to cut the margin to 13 points at the break.
“I think we got comfortable early,” said Lawson. “But when things started to not go our way, we started forcing (shots) and it got away from us. We dug a hole and couldn’t get out of it.”
The second half wasn’t much different as the Cowboys were only able to get as close as 13 points despite shooting nearly 50 percent in the frame. Lamar connected on 50 percent even and never allowed McNeese’s defense to get the kills it was looking for to get back into the game.
“When you don’t get enough stops and able to score in transition, then you’re always going against a half-court set defense where the scout really comes into play,” said Schroyer. “Again, I give them a lot of credit. They played better than us tonight.”
Kuxhausen, who hit five 3s in a win at Lamar just four days ago including the game-winner at the buzzer, was held without a 3 for just the second time this season.
“They really tried to take Dru away, and they did,” said Schroyer. “Not too many nights is he going to go 0-for-6 from the three and they did a really good job on Sha’markus.”
Lamar had four players score in double-figures, led by T.J. Atwood’s 20 points while Avery Sullivan scored 19.
McNeese shot 40 percent for the game (24 for 60) but was just 7.1 percent from 3-point range (1 for 14). Lamar connected on 46 percent (31 of 68) from the field and 6 of 15 for 40 percent from behind the arc.
The Cardinals held a 40-36 advantage in rebounds and pulled down 15 boards, scoring 10 second-chance points.