The Sam Houston State University Bearkats (17-9, 12-1) were defeated by the Lamar University Cardinals (14-12, 7-6) Saturday evening 75-72, ending the team’s quest at an undefeated Southland Conference season.
In the first half there was not much that went the Bearkats way offensively. The team shot just 32 percent from the floor in the first half, and turned the ball over 12 times, which led to 16 Cardinal points.
“I thought the big difference tonight was just our turnovers,” head coach Jason Hooten said. “We got outscored by nine in points off turnovers, so to me that was really the biggest thing.”
Early in the first half the Bearkats were able to make up for their offensive woes with strong defense. Neither the Bearkats nor the Cardinals even got into double digits until senior guard Marcus Harris hit a three with 8:27 left in the first half to put the Bearkats ahead 12-9. The Bearkats and Cardinals stayed tight with each other until the final five minutes of the half. After two free throws by Harris tied the score at 19 with 5:17 remaining the Cardinals began their push.
The Cardinals got things going at the free throw line with four consecutive free throws by junior forwards Josh Nzeakor and Christian Barrett to make it 23-19. Two possessions later a three pointer by senior guard Nick Garth made the score 26-21, and that is when the floodgates opened for the Cardinals. From that point on it was freshman guard Davion Buster that took over for the Cardinals. Buster began with a fast break layup, then followed that with an off the dribble three on the next possession. After a stop the Cardinals went right back to Buster who hit his third shot in a row to make it 35-23 with 1:55 left in the first half. After having just four points in Southland play all season, Buster led the Cardinals with 12 first half points, as they took a 41-26 lead into halftime.
“I thought in the first half we put ourselves in a hole, being down 15,” Hooten said. “I felt like we were still in the game.”
In the second half the Bearkats came out of the locker room with a renewed energy and focus. The game plan was obvious, give the ball to junior forward Kai Mitchell and let him go to work. Mitchell had 16 of his team high 17 points in the second half, and fueled a second half surge. It took only 39 seconds for Mitchell to connect on his first shot of the game, and that was all he needed to get things going, as he scored six of the team’s first eight points.
“We gotta keep feeding Kai, he’s obviously a problem down there for people,” Hooten said “I thought in the second half he was the person that put us on his back, and really got us back in the game.”
Regardless of what Mitchell and the Bearkats did, there was one thing the team did not have an answer for, and that was the free throw line for the Cardinals. Lamar shot 24 free throws in the second half alone compared to the Bearkats’ eight attempts. The Cardinals converted on 17 of their 24 attempts, and seemed to half any Bearkat rally with trips to the free throw line. The Bearkats kept coming, and it seemed they were ready to take the game over with 4:57 left when Mitchell grabbed an offensive rebound and put it back in to make the game 60-58, and give his team all the momentum. On the ensuing possession junior guard Chad Bowie forced a steal, and the Bearkats had a chance to tie the game after senior guard Josh Delaney was fouled, Delaney though missed both attempts. The Bearkats did look like they were going to have one more chance to steal the game after a Harris three pointer made it 68-67 with one minute left. The Cardinals had answer, in the form of Garth. With the shot clock winding down Garth released a heavily contested three pointer from well behind the line and hit nothing but the net, and gave the Cardinals a 71-67 lead. The Bearkats did have one last chance to tie it, but they could not get a shot off before the buzzer and fell 75-72.
Up next the team will be back home Wednesday to take on the Nicholls State University Colonels.