PREVIEW: Lamar Cardinals Visit the Liberty Flames in Search of Third-Straight Win

Josh Nzeakor, Kevin Booze and the rest of the Lamar Cardinals will be in search of their third-straight victory on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Liberty Flames in Lynchburg, VA. (Source: Fox 4 Beaumont)
Josh Nzeakor, Kevin Booze and the rest of the Lamar Cardinals will be in search of their third-straight victory on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Liberty Flames in Lynchburg, VA. (Source: Fox 4 Beaumont)

Saturday afternoon, the future of two mid-major programs will be on full display as youth will consume the court inside the Vines Center in Lynchburg, VA. The Lamar Cardinals will put their two-game winning streak on the line when they face off against the Liberty Flames, who are looking to put an end to their six-game losing streak.

Both teams are loaded with youth, and the majority of their rosters are made up of freshmen or sophomores. Both teams have experienced some highs and some lows this season, but fans need to look past them and realize that the future is bright in both Beaumont and Lynchburg.

A win would do wonders for both programs in 2015-16, as their players are looking to gain more confidence early on in their NCAA careers. This game may not catch the eye of the casual fan, but let me tell you, this one is one to watch if you are a diehard fan. See these youngsters play now and watch how they develop over their careers.

There’s a ton of talent, and more importantly potential, on the floor in this one, so here’s everything you need to know in advance of tip-off.

Game Notes

Time: 2:00pm EST

Location: Vines Center, Lynchburg, VA

Spread: N/A

Lamar Cardinals (4-3, 0-0)

The Lamar Cardinals are a team that don’t get as much love as they deserve. They are a team that is extremely young, evident by their 6 freshmen on the roster in 2015-16, but they are playing wise beyond their years. Last week, we wrote about how the Cardinals can contend in the Southland Conference as early as this season, and possibly win. You can check that piece out right here.

Coming into Saturday afternoon’s showdown with the Liberty Flames, the Cardinals are riding a mini two-game winning streak, both of which came on their home floor. They disposed of the UTRGV Vaqueros by 23 points, then cruised past the Idaho State Bengals by 12 points in their last outing. They enter Lynchburg, VA playing some strong basketball.

All three of their losses have been by single digits, so the Cardinals have been competitive all season long, even in defeat. If they had pulled out even one of those games and come away with a win, people could be talking about the Cardinals in a whole different light.

The Cardinals have relied on a healthy dose of youth this season on offense, as three of their top four scorers are either a freshman or a sophomore. Freshman guard Nick Garth is the team’s leading scorer this season, averaging 14.6 points per contest. He is a strong three-point shooter, connecting on 37% from the floor. As a freshman, he is still adjusting to life at the Division I level, committing 1.7 turnovers per game, With that said, rookie mistakes are bound to happen, but the Cardinals have to be thoroughly pleased with what they’ve seen so far.

Garth provides the Cardinals with a formidable point guard duo, alongside sophomore Kevin Booze. Booze is averaging 11.7 points per game this season, good for the third-best mark on the team. However, Booze has been hot-and-cold this season, putting up big numbers on one night and struggling the next. He put up 25 points against the Rice Owls, only to be held to 6 points in their next contest against the UC Riverside Highlanders.

If Booze can put together a string of consistent performances, and the Cardinals can keep getting impressive performances from their stellar freshmen, they could very well enter conference play riding a 7-game winning streak. But, in order for that to happen, they need to get past the Liberty Flames on Saturday afternoon.

Liberty Flames (3-7, 0-2)

If you thought the Lamar Cardinals were a young team, wait until you see the Liberty Flames. According to their roster on ESPN, they have one senior, five sophomores, and six freshmen of their own. With a massive turnover in terms of player personnel for themselves, the start to the season could have been worse for the Flames.

After losing the likes of David Andoh and Tomasz Gielo to transfers, and saying goodbye to several others from last season, many wrote off the Flames before the season started. Despite their shallow preseason expectations, they opened the season with a 3-1 record. Mind you, they beat three teams who were non-Division I opponents, but they were wins nonetheless and they gave the team some confidence moving forwards.

Since their 3-1 start, the Flames have since fallen into a lull, losing 6 straight games ahead of Saturday afternoon’s contest with the Cardinals. They lost their opening two games of Big South play during the losing streak, falling to both Radford and Charleston Southern. Three of those six losses have been by 10 points or less. The Flames have been competitive down the stretch in games, but their lack of experience has hurt them to date.

The top four scorers for the Flames this season are either sophomores or freshmen, led by sophomore big man Evan Maxwell. The 6’10” center is averaging a team-high 13.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest this season. He gives the team a big body in the paint who has the size and potential to be an impact player on both ends of the floor.

With Maxwell playing well in the paint, it can open things up for the likes of Lovell Cabill (10.4 ppg), Ryan Kemrite (8.9 ppg), and A.C. Reid (8.7 ppg) in the back court. They are all capable of scoring in bunches, and have the talent to excel at the Division I level. Once they gain experience, they have the potential to be a formidable guard rotation in the Big South.

If Liberty wants to end their losing streak on Saturday, they will need to play through Maxwell in the middle. Maxwell has a size advantage over the forwards of the Cardinals, and the Flames will need to exploit that from the outset.

Players to Watch

Lamar Cardinals

Nick Garth (G) – 14.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.0 apg

Kevin Booze (G) – 11.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.1 apg

Josh Nzeakor (F) – 5.7 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 0.1 apg

Liberty Flames

Evan Maxwell (C) – 13.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.0 apg

Lovell Cabill (G) – 10.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.3 apg

A.C. Reid (G) – 8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 2.4 apg 

On Saturday afternoon, the future of both the Lamar Cardinals and the Liberty Flames will be the focal point of their afternoon matinee. Both teams are extremely young, so their fans will have to be patient, trust the process, and enjoy watching their players develop right before their eyes.

Saturday presents a perfect opportunity for both teams to score a big win in 2015-16. Both teams can benefit from the win, and it would give each team a healthy shot of confidence as they inch towards the rigorous grind of conference play.

The future is very bright for both Lamar and Liberty, and we will see that first-hand on Saturday.

– T.B.