Early on in the season, the Lamar Cardinals had the look of a top contender in the Southland Conference, and they’re a team that we have been high on all year. Despite being one of the nation’s youngest teams, they were playing with confidence and one would be hard-pressed to tell they were a young team.
Coming into Saturday’s contest, the Cardinals have hit a bit of a slide, and are going the wrong way in the Southland Conference standings. Losses to the Central Arkansas Bears and the Southeastern Louisiana Lions will do that to a team. Even with the recent losses, the Cardinals still have the look of a team who could take home the conference title, and rough patches are expected with a young team.
Their opponents on Saturday afternoon have been trending upwards since conference play began. The Houston Baptist Huskies have reeled off six straight wins to open conference play, and seven wins overall, to put themselves atop the Southland standings. The Huskies have been playing some strong basketball, and are looking to close out their road trip with a perfect 3-0 record.
Lamar has the perfect opportunity to make a statement with a win in front of their home crowd, while Houston Baptist can build off their recent stretch of hot play and extend their lead atop the conference standings. With so much on the line for both teams on Saturday, this contest will be one to watch from the start.
Keep on reading to get all caught up with both teams in advance of Saturday’s showdown in Beaumont, TX.
Time: 5:30pm EST
Location: Montagne Center, Beaumont, TX
Houston Baptist Huskies (11-7, 6-0)
The 2015-16 season didn’t start out well for the Huskies. Houston Baptist lost five of their first six games, and didn’t take down a Division I opponent until they beat the Rice Owls on December 2nd, 77-73.
They followed up their win over Rice with a blowout loss on the road against the Michigan Wolverines, and were sitting at 2-6 on the season. Simply put, things weren’t going their way, and something had to change.
Change it did, and the Huskies have been rolling ever since.
Houston Baptist enters Saturday’s game having won 9 of their last 10 games overall, and are riding a seven-game winning streak into Beaumont, TX. Their hot streak has included six straight wins to open conference play, three of which have been on the road, and the Huskies are all alone atop the Southland standings (.5 game ahead of Texas A&M-CC Islanders and Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks).
So, what has been the reason for their turnaround? Balance.
On the year, the Huskies have 9 different players who have appeared in at least 15 games and have averaged more than 4.0 points per contest. Senior guard Anthony Odunsi has been the leader on offense, averaging a team-best 16.9 points per contest to go along with a team-high 4.1 assists per game.
Odunsi is shooting 51.5% from the floor, 42.1% from three point range, and 84.6% from the free throw line on the year. If he keeps up his current production and can keep the Huskies in contention down the stretch, he will be a top contender for the Southland Conference Player of the Year award.
While Odunsi has been the leader, others are more than capable of stepping up and taking the reins if he has an off night. Fellow guard Reveal Chukwujekwu (8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg) or forward Josh Ibarra (10.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg) have been strong on both ends of the floor, and provide the offense with different looks when they are in the lineup.
The main difference between the Huskies and the Cardinals is experience. Houston Baptist rolls out an experienced starting lineup on a regular basis, while the Cardinals mix in their strong freshmen each game. Both teams are chalked full of talent, which means the game could come down to something as simple as experience.
If Houston Baptist can use their experience to get out in front early, they have the talent to keep the Cardinals at a safe distance and extend their winning streak.
Projected Starting Lineup
Guard: Reveal Chukwujekwu (JR, 8.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.5 apg)
Guard: Anthony Odunsi (SR, 16.9 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.1 apg)
Guard: Jourdan Stickler (SR, 6.7 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Forward: Colter Lasher (JR, 9.0 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.1 apg)
Forward: Josh Ibarra (SO, 10.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg)
Lamar Cardinals (10-8, 2-4)
The Lamar Cardinals rolled into the New Year and conference play riding a stretch of strong play. After knocking off the Nicholls State Colonels to open Southland play, the Cardinals were sitting at 9-4 overall. The win gave the Cardinals 7 wins in their last 8 games, and Lamar looked to be rolling into Southland play.
Since the win over Nicholls State, the wheels have slowly started to fall off for the Cardinals.
Coming into Saturday afternoon, the Cardinals have lost 4 of their past 5 games, and are currently sitting at 10-8 overall, and 2-4 in conference play. Their loss to Southeastern Louisiana was the Lions’ first conference win of the season.
Even though the Cardinals are struggling at the moment, there is plenty of optimism surrounding the team. With a healthy dose of youth on the roster, the future is bright for the Cardinals down in Beaumont, TX.
Freshmen Nick Garth and Dorian Chatman have enjoyed a high level of success in their first seasons at Lamar. Garth is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.4 points per game to go along with 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per contest. He is the only player to average double-digit points per game this season for Lamar.
He is a great shooter of the ball, and has range from all over the offensive end of the floor. He can shoot the long ball or finish in the paint, and he is a strong free throw shooter. Alongside sophomore guard Kevin Booze, the Cardinals have a strong point guard rotation for the next few seasons.
They have a good balance between experience and youth, all of whom have talent on the hardwood. If the Cardinals want to knock off the Huskies on Saturday afternoon, they will need to get strong production from their bench players, and limit their turnovers.
If their role players can come in and put up strong numbers in limited action, they have a great chance to knock off the conference-leading Huskies and make a statement in the process.
Projected Starting Lineup
Guard: Lincoln Davis (JR, 9.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.1 apg)
Guard: Marcus Owens (JR, 6.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Forward: Dontavious Sears (SR, 9.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Forward: Dorian Chatman (FR, 7.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg)
Forward: LeMon Gregory (SR, 4.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 0.6 bpg)
Houston Baptist (00), Lamar (00)