BEAUMONT, Tex. — Win, and you’re in.
That’s the situation that the Lamar Cardinals found themselves in on Saturday afternoon. A win over the visiting Houston Baptist Huskies, or a loss from the Nicholls Colonels, would secure a spot in the Southland Conference tournament for the Cardinals, and it would give them another shot of momentum that would help them build off a win in their last outing.
Lamar put an end to a three game skid in their last outing, an 88-68 win over the Northwestern State Demons on the road.
Saturday wasn’t going to be easy, as the Huskies came into the day riding a six-game winning streak of their own. In their last meeting with the Cardinals, the Huskies held down their home court with a 94-87 victory, despite a strong shooting night from the Cardinals.
Out of the gate, Lamar found themselves behind early, and they were never able to fully recover.
Houston Baptist never trailed on Saturday afternoon, and despite Lamar drawing all-square midway through the second half, the Cardinals were unable to overtake the Huskies. Four players scored in double-figures for Houston Baptist, who took home a 75-68 victory.
Houston Baptist scored the first five points of the contest, holding Lamar off the scoreboard until after the first media timeout. Asa Cantwell hit a three just over a minute into the game to draw first blood for the Huskies, and the visitors were off and running.
Lamar was held scoreless for over four minutes to open the game. Out of the first media timeout, which was at the 15:56 mark of the half, Lincoln Davis hit one of two free throws to get the Cardinals on the board.
A pair of free throws from Torey Noel got the Cardinals to within a single point with just over 11 minutes to play before the break, but that was as close as they would get in the opening half. Houston Baptist led the entire way, and took a five-point lead into the locker room, at 34-29.
Despite Josh Ibarra and Colter Lasher scoring on the first two possessions for the Huskies to open the second half, the Cardinals continued to fight. Colton Weisbrod completed a three-point play to answer the two early buckets from Houston Baptist, and we had a game on our hands.
A few minutes later, Ibarra got a layup to drop that gave the Huskies an 11-point lead. When it looked like they were going to pull away, the Cardinals came back swinging.
After Atif Russell got a layup to fall that gave the Huskies a 60-52 lead with 9:11 to play in the game, Lamar went on a run to even things up.
The Cardinals went on an 8-0 run to tie the game at 60-all. It was the first time since 0-0 that the scoreboard read something other than a lead for the Huskies. Weisbrod capped off the run with a layup with 7:13 to play in the contest.
Once the run ended, both teams struggled from the field over the next five minutes. The Huskies outscored the Cardinals 8-2 over the next 4:50, retaking the lead for good.
Back-to-back layups from Braxton Bonds, the second coming with just 46 seconds to play in the game, put the game on ice for the Huskies, who held a 72-64 lead at the time.
It was a valiant effort by the Cardinals in the second half, put they have to wait another day before they can clinch a spot in the conference tournament. Houston Baptist took on the role of spoiler on Saturday, and came away with the 75-68 victory.
Colton Weisbrod continued his strong junior season in defeat. He scored a game-high 24 points on the day, going 7-of-13 from the field and 10-of-14 from the free throw line. Nick Garth chipped in with 23 points off the bench.
They were the only two players in double-figures for the Cardinals.
On the flip side, the Huskies used a more balanced offensive attack on Saturday afternoon. Four players scored in double-figures, led a by a team-high 18 points from Atif Russell off the bench, who went 7-of-8 from the field in the process.
Josh Ibarra finished the day with 16 points and 8 rebounds, while Colter Lasher chipped in with 12 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists of his own.
With their loss and a win by Nicholls on Saturday, the Lamar Cardinals (16-13, 8-8) have to wait until their next outing to clinch a spot in the conference tournament. They take on the Colonels on Thursday night in the last home game for the Cardinals.
With the win, the Houston Baptist Huskies (15-12, 10-6) remain just a game behind the two teams in second place in the conference. The Huskies will go for their eighth straight win on Wednesday night when they take on the Texas A&M-CC Islanders, who are one of the two teams immediately ahead of Houston Baptist in the conference.
– T. Bennett