McNeese State falls short in Southland finalBy CHRIS DUNCAN, AP Sports Writer Saturday, Mar 10, 2012
KATY, Texas (AP)—McNeese State finally ran out of energy at the Southland Conference tournament.
Mike James scored 26 points, Devon Lamb added 12 and Lamar defeated the Cowboys 70-49 in the championship on Saturday.
Lamar (23-11) will return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000, while McNeese State (17-15) will sit out for the ninth straight year.
“We came to fight today, and we just came up a little short,” McNeese coach Dave Simmons said. “We limped into this tournament and won two games to put ourselves into position to win. We just came up short.”
McNeese played only six players by necessity. Starting forward Rudy Turner sat out Saturday’s game with persistent right knee pain, and the Cowboys were already playing without forward Craig McFerrin (broken collarbone) and Tyson Queen (hip surgery).
The Cowboys dropped their last four regular-season games, then won their first two tournament games to reach the Southland final for the second straight year.
“We won with some kids that gave their heart out for a university and a coaching staff,” Simmons said. “Winning on the scoreboard doesn’t always justify what you have gone through this year.”
Patrick Richard scored 16 points, but went 4 for 20 from the field for McNeese State.
Lamar took control of Saturday’s game late in the first half, when the Cowboys went cold to fuel a 21-2 spurt. McNeese went nearly seven minutes without a field goal until Richard sank a straight-on 3-pointer with 2:22 left in the half.
Brandon Davis swished a 3 with 48 seconds to go before halftime, and Lamar led 33-21 at the break.
The Cowboys started the second half by scoring on consecutive fast breaks. Lamar continued to smother Richard, but Dontae Cannon hit a mid-range shot and a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 35-30 just three minutes out of halftime.
James scored on a drive and swished a 3-pointer from the corner and Lamar extended the lead again. Osas Ebomwonyi, Lamar’s 6-foot-11 center, blocked a shot that triggered another fast break and James’ layup for a 44-35 Cardinals’ lead.
“This team has true character,” Simmons said. “If you want to test a man’s spirit, when he is at his low, see what he is made of.
“When put in a situation, these kids responded every time. They even responded (Saturday), but it just didn’t happen for us on the clock.”
Ebomwonyi blocked six shots in the first 14 minutes of the second half, and James swished another 3 with 5:50 left to put Lamar up 55-39, its biggest lead to that point.
Coach Pat Knight, in his first season, guided Lamar to its first 20-win campaign since 1988. The 23 victories are the most since the 1983-84 squad went 26-5.
“Greatness, no matter how brief, always sticks with people,” Knight said. “These guys will be part of the Lamar family, and they’ll be a big part of my folklore.”
Knight is expecting a No. 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA tournament, and the Cardinals will be heavy underdogs in the first round. But it’s a start.
“I’ll be sitting around a bar when I’m about 65 with a bunch of old coaches, and I’ll be like, `Hey, let me tell you about this group of kids I had at Lamar,”’ he said. “I threw them under the bus, and they went out and won six in a row and just got to the tournament.’ These guys are always going to be special to me.”
Knight ripped his seniors after a loss to Stephen F. Austin on Feb. 22, saying they were “stealing money by being on scholarship” and the Cardinals have won six in a row since the tirade.
“I thought they were tough enough to take it,” Knight said. “If I had a team full of soft kids, or freshmen. If I was coaching at a big school, there’d be no way I’d get away with it. I’d have a revolt.”