2015-16 Year in Review: Tale of Two Halves for the Lamar Cardinals

After two seasons with the Lamar Cardinals. guard Kevin Booze announced that he was transferring from the program. He will have two years of eligibility left. (Source: USA Today Sports)
After two seasons with the Lamar Cardinals. guard Kevin Booze is looking for his next opportunity after being dismissed from the program. He will have two years of eligibility left. (Source: USA Today Sports)

A team could be having a great season, and then things could turn dark in a hurry. That was the situation that the Lamar Cardinals found themselves in during the 2015-16 season.

A promising start to the season led to some thinking that they could be serious title contenders in the Southland Conference. We even profiled the team, and how they had the look of a team that could knock the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks from the top of the conference totem pole. That dream never came into focus, as the Cardinals struggled in conference play.

Despite their second half struggles, the non-conference portion of their schedule gave reason to believe that the future is indeed still bright down in Beaumont, Texas.

2015-16 in Review

The 2015-16 season got off on the right foot for the Cardinals, as they scored a win over Division III Austin College Kangaroos, 101-58. Lamar would win two of their first three games before losing their next two to start the year at 3-5.

When the calendar flipped to December, the Cardinals kicked their game into a new gear.

From December 2nd to their conference opener on January 2nd, Lamar went an impressive 7-1 over their eight-game stretch. A three-game win streak and a four-game win streak were sandwiched around a tough road loss to an ACC opponent.

All seven of the Cardinals’ wins came by double figures, and they won by an average of 18 points during their impressive streak. They notched home wins over the likes of the UT-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros and the Idaho State Bengals to open the run, and closed it off with a win over the Nicholls State Colonels to open up conference play and the 2016 calendar year.

Their lone loss in the run came on December 13th at the hands of the Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg, VA. It was Lamar’s second game in as many days, and after scoring a 73-58 road win over the Liberty Flames the day prior, the Cardinals came out flat against the Hokies and fell 88-53.

After their win over the Colonels to get off on the right foot in Southland Conference play, the Cardinals were sitting at 9-4 on the season, and 1-0 in conference play. They were playing like a team who could contend for the conference title, and had the confidence to do just that.

That’s when the wheels fell off the wagon. Their inexperience started to show, and things started to go downhill in a hurry after such a promising start to the year.

A loss to the New Orleans Privateers in their second conference game, 68-64, started the downward spiral for the Cardinals. The loss ignited a three game losing streak that sent Lamar the wrong direction in the conference race.

That was just the start of thing to come. As the old saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.”

The losses started to pile up for the Cardinals, and despite the team being competitive in the majority of their games, they found themselves on the wrong side of the decision more times than not.

A win over the Northwestern State Demons ended the three-game losing streak and pushed the Cardinals to the 10-win mark. After that, the team would win just one more game the rest of the way.

Following their home win over the Demons, the Cardinals found themselves on the losing end for eight straight games, and 12 of their last 13 contests. Their final win came on February 20th, a road victory over the McNeese State Cowboys.

When the season was all said and done, the Lamar Cardinals finished with an 11-19 record overall, and just 3-15 in conference play. The Cardinals finished 13th in the Southland Conference standings, 15 games back of the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.

Despite their losing record, some are left wondering what could’ve been. In conference play, eight of the Cardinals’ losses were by single digit margins.

Five of the eight were decided by four points or less:

Feb. 1st: 3 points vs. Sam Houston State Bearkats
Feb. 6th: 3 points vs. Incarnate Word Cardinals
Feb. 8th:
4 points vs. Abilene Christian Wildcats
Feb. 15th:
1 point @ Houston Baptist Huskies
Feb. 29th:
3 points v. McNeese State Cowboys

Any of those games could have gone either way, and Lamar could have won all five and they’d be an above .500 team. The losses may sting, but it leads to optimism around the program and hopeful thoughts for the future.

Player Development

Despite being one of the more inexperienced teams this past year, the Cardinals had a ton of depth on their bench, and Coach Price and his staff put it to good use as they tried to find the right combination of players to put an end to their losing ways.

A total of 10 different players appeared in at least 27 games and averaged at least 11.2 minutes per contest. All 10 of these players averaged at least 3.6 points per game to boot.

A trio of freshmen asserted themselves as up-and-coming stars for the Cardinals as their career progress, but none more so than guard Nick Garth. As the season progressed, Garth gained the trust of the coaching staff and became a reliable point guard option.

The 5’11” guard from Houston, TX led the team in scoring this season, averaging 13.4 points per game to go along with 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per contest. He established himself as a top scoring option in the back court while being capable of running the offense, and will be a player to watch over the next three seasons at Lamar.

Up front, the freshmen duo of Dorian Chatman and Josh Nzeakor put together strong first years in Beaumont, and have set the Cardinals up well for the future. Both stand at 6’6” tall, and add some size to the lineup at the 3- or 4-spots.

Chatman, who was our Pre-Season Southland Freshman of the Year, averaged 8.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 46.6% from the floor. Nzeakor averaged 6.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, while shooting an impressive 50.7% from the floor.

With departures in the front court heading into 2016-17, Chatman, Nzeakor, and junior Preston Mattingly will see their roles and responsibilities increase.

What’s Ahead in 2016-17

Plenty of changes are coming for the Lamar Cardinals in 2016-17 in terms of player personnel. Three players have transferred from the program, while three more have graduated and are onto the next chapter in their basketball and professional careers.

Freshman forward Boaz Williams, sophomore guard Kevin Booze, and junior center Christian Kennedy are all looking for new opportunities after the 2015-16 season. Williams and Kennedy are transferring from the program, while Booze was dismissed from the team by Coach Price.

Only Williams has found his new home, committing to Collin College (TX).

Add in the graduation of seniors Dontavious SearsLeMon Gregory, and Quan Jones, the Cardinals will look a little bit different on the hardwood in 2016-17. That doesn’t mean they won’t have a ton of talent and depth, as they bring in some talented pieces to offset their losses.

A trio of highly-touted recruits will be coming to Beaumont, TX next season and will be looking to have an impact from the outset. Tyrin Atwood, a 6’6” guard/forward from Beaumont, was a key cog in Central H.S.’ run to the semi-finals as a junior. He averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds on their run, and finished the year averaging 13 points and 7 rebounds per game.

Guard Cameron McGee bring size to the back court for the Cardinals, and a level of familiarity with the team despite not playing a game with the team. He is club teammates with Booze and Nzeakor, playing with the Dallas Showtyme. At 6’2”, he will add some size and toughness to the back court while bringing a nice offensive game. He averaged 15 points per game as a junior while connecting on 42% of his three point attempts.

Lastly, Colton Weisbrod comes to Lamar after a brief stint with the New Orleans Privateers in 2014-15, and most recently, Lamar State College – Port Arthur in 2015-16. As a freshman with the Privateers, the 6’5” forward made 12 starts and appeared in 23 games overall. He averaged 7 points and 3 rebounds per contest. Weisbrod was also a team captain at Lamar State College – Port Arthur.

Even with their losses in the second half of last season, both on and off the court, the future is bright for the Lamar Cardinals. The pieces they have coming into the program will offset some of the losses from the players departing. Add in the return of their crop of freshmen, who are now more experienced and more talented, and the Cardinals look poised for a rebound season in 2016-17.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Cardinals won’t turn into the top team in the Southland Conference over night. With that said, the foundation has been laid for a rise to the top and more pieces will be put into place in the 2016-17 season.

Lamar fans will have to be patient and trust the process. With the talent the team possesses, the Cardinals could be flying high in the very near future.

– T.B.