NATCHITOCHES, La. — Fans of the Lamar Cardinals have been waiting patiently for a few years for their team to become a factor in the Southland Conference.
Some thought it would be last season when the Cardinals opened the season with an 8-4 record in non-conference action. However, they struggled mightily in Southland play, finishing the season at 11-19 overall, and 3-15 in conference action.
This season has been a different story, as the Cardinals have kept themselves at or above the .500 clip for the entire year.
On Wednesday night, the Cardinals were looking to clinch their first winning season since 2012. They had their hands full, however, as they were on the road to take on the Northwestern State Demons.
Senior guard Zeek Woodley was making his return to the lineup for the Demons after sustaining a broken wrist earlier in the year, which forced him to miss eight weeks of action. His return gave Northwestern State some extra motivation, but it wouldn’t be enough against the Cardinals.
Behind 17 points from Nick Garth off the bench, Lamar clinched their first winning season since 2012 with an 888-68 road victory at Northwestern State.
Lamar played spoiler on the night of Woodley’s anticipated return to the lineup for the Demons.
Northwestern held a lead for a total of 51 seconds on Wednesday night, taking leads up 2-0 and 5-2 early in the first half. A three-point play from Ishmael Lane gave the Demons the early three-point lead with 18:55 to play in the opening half.
Under a minute later, Zjori Bosha hit a pair of free throws to push Lamar ahead by a point, and they never trailed the rest of the night. The Cardinals were never seriously threatened in the first half, and the lead ballooned to 20 points by the break.
Lamar shot 53% from the field in the opening 20 minutes, while Northwestern State struggled from long distance, making just one jumper from three point range in the first half on 12 attempts.
The second half was more of the same, as Lamar led comfortably the entire way. Northwestern State was never able to mount a serious comeback attempt at Lamar’s lead, which remained in double digits for all but 31 seconds in the final frame.
In his return, Zeek Woodley scored a team-high 16 points off the bench in the loss. He currently ranks second on the all-time scoring list at Northwestern State.
Devonte Hall and Ishmael Lane added 10 points apiece in a losing effort.
Despite coming off the bench, Nick Garth led all scorers on Wednesday night with 17 points. He connected on 5 three-pointers in 19 minutes of action.
Colton Weisbrod chipped in with 16 points, and was one of three Lamar players to reach double figures. Zjori Bosha narrowly missed a double-double, finishing with 9 points and 9 rebounds.
With the win, the Lamar Cardinals (16-12, 8-7) have secured their first winning season since they went 23-12 back in the 2011-12 season and made the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals return home on Saturday to take on the Houston Baptist Huskies.
The loss all but eliminates the Northwestern State Demons (10-16, 4-11), who will need a lot of help to get into the eight-team Southland Conference tournament. The Demons are back on the hardwood on Saturday when they take on the conference-leading New Orleans Privateers.
– T. Bennett