LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - A.J. Lawson flirted with a triple-double with 21 points, 12 assists and seven rebounds and McNeese had several chances in the final two minutes to pull ahead, but Southeastern Louisiana was able to hold off any threat and defeated the Cowboys 92-88 in Southland Conference action on Wednesday night in Burton Coliseum.
Six times in the final six minutes of the game McNeese trailed by three or less and with possession but was unable to tie the game or take the lead, and twice in the final 1:20, McNeese (6-8, 0-5) had the ball trailing by 1 but was turned away from taking over.
“If we could’ve just taken the lead, that would’ve changed things,” said head coach Heath Schroyer. “We let that one get away. Not taking anything away from them (SLU), they played well and made shots when they needed them.”
McNeese shot a season-high 64 percent from the field (32 of 50) and hit 71 percent in the second half (15 of 21) but SLU countered with 54 percent for the game including hitting 11 of 26 from three-point range. At one point, after missing their first seven from behind the arc, the Lions (4-10, 2-3) connected on 9 of their next 10 from long range.
“Anytime you shoot 64 percent and score 88 points, that should be enough to win games,” said Schroyer. “We didn’t do a good job on getting out on the perimeter guarding their shooters.”
One of those for SLU was Gus Okafor who entered the night making just 27 percent from three-point range. He connected on 4 of 6 from long range to lead the Lions with 26 points, one of two players to score 20 or more as Keon Clergeot added 22.
Lawson was one of five Cowboys to score in double-figures, joined by Carlos Rosario who added 19 points, 15 of those in the first half. Rosario would leave the game early in the second half after taking an elbow in the eye. He later returned with it bandaged up.
Dru Kuxhausen scored 16 points behind 5 of 7 shooting from three-point range while Braelon Bush added 12 and KeyShawn Feazell 10.
McNeese trailed 48-41 at the half but led 24-12 midway through the first 20 minutes. The Lions caught fire, using the long ball to put together a 21-9 run over the next five minutes to tie the game at 33-33.
Following two Lawson free throws with 4:13 to play tied things up at 34-34, SLU went on a 10-2 run to take a 44-36 lead with 2:04 to play. The teams traded baskets in the final minutes of the half.
SLU kept a double-digit lead through most of the first five minutes of the second half before the Cowboys began to chip away, beginning with back-to-back 3s by Bush and Kuxhausen.
A 3 by Bush at the 12:14 mark pulled McNeese to within 66-62 but Okafor answered with two straight 3s to put the Lions back up by 10 at 74-64 with 10:46 to play.
McNeese scored five straight after a couple of Feazell freebies and a Harwin Francois trey, then after trailing by 7 at the 7:52 mark, Kuxhausen sank his fifth 3 of the night followed by a couple of Lawson free throws to pull the Cowboys to within two points at 80-78 with 6:43 to play.
Despite have several chances to tie or go ahead in the final six minutes, the Cowboys were not able to get over that hump.
The best chance came with 1:37 left and McNeese trailing 87-86. The Cowboys would force SLU in to a shot clock violation turnover but on the ensuing possession, Kuxhausen lost the ball out of bounds while driving through the lane for a go-ahead layup with 1:22 to play.
Then after Collin Warren slammed one down with 44 seconds to play to pull to within 1 point again at 89-88, Warren stole a pass from Clergeot and was immediately fouled, second him to the line with 18 seconds remaining with a chance to put the Cowboys on top. However Warren missed both free throws and the Cowboys were forced to foul, sending the Lions to the line where Clergeot made both shots to make it a 91-88 score with 14 seconds to play.
McNeese still had a chance to tie the game but Kuxhausen stepped on the sideline while pivoting after catching a pass, turning the ball over to the Lions, where Isiah Kirby hit 1 of 2 free throws to put the game out of reach.