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LU men’s basketball seeks redemption year

LU freshman, Davion Buster, right, practices battling through contact with assistant coach Brandon Chappell inside the Montagne Center, Oct. 25.  UP photo by Cassandra Jenkins
LU freshman, Davion Buster, right, practices battling through contact with assistant coach Brandon Chappell inside the Montagne Center, Oct. 25. UP photo by Cassandra Jenkins

Last year, the Cardinal basketball team went on an 11-7 conference run, making it all the way to the Southland Conference Tournament for the second-consecutive year before being cut short with a 10-point loss in the opening round to Central Arkansas.

Head coach Tic Price said the 2018-19 season will be different.

“We want to win the Southland Conference regular season, win the tournament and go on to the NCAA tournament,” he said. “That’s the mindset that we have to make sure we have a tunnel vision about and be very determined in getting there.

“(This year) I think we need to finish strong. We started off (last year) good and we had some wins that people didn’t expect, but going down the stretch I don’t think that we necessarily had the force that we had early in the year. I’m not sure we hit a wall, but we have to finish stronger.”

Price said he has seen the team giving great effort in practice and is excited to see what this year’s squad will accomplish.

“I’ve been pleased with our ability to compete on a daily basis,” he said. “Where we need to improve is paying attention to detail consistently. The consistent part comes with knowing the offense and knowing the responsibilities it takes on the defensive end. But, I’ve been very pleased with how our guys have competed every day. They play really hard, and that’s half the battle.”

This year the Lamar squad consists of two returning starters —Josh Nzeakor and Nick Garth, along with seven other returners and four newbies.

“We’ve got a few returning guys that have logged in a lot of minutes,” Price said. “Josh Nzeakor and Nick Garth — those two guys understand, they get it. We expect them to play like veteran players and lead the new guys in being mature, growing and developing like they have. Nick is still shooting the ball well. “Josh is still capable of getting double-doubles night in and night out. I think Jordan Foster and Avery Sullivan, two freshmen from last year, hopefully grew up. They say the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores, so that’s going to be something we will have to see. But, we have seen growth from one year to the next.

“Then, we have four guys in Jordan Hunter who transferred from New Mexico who has played on a high level; Mike Kolawole from Illinois-Chicago, is probably our best defense on the perimeter, our lock down guy; V.J. Holmes, who is a versatile player at 6’5, we need him to continue to grow and get better; and Christian Barrett who has been out with injuries — he’s got some catching up to do, but I do think he could have an impact on this team. Someone I forgot about is T.J. Atwood who had some good games a year ago.

“We’ve got a good mix of veterans and newcomers. I hope that incoming freshmen, Davion Buster and Grehlon Easter, are going to have bright futures at Lamar as well. I think there’s a collection of guys that people don’t know a lot about, but will be surprised once they see them play.”

On the court, Price said the defense is ahead of the offense.

“I think that their effort has dictated the tone with our defense,” he said. “Offensively, we still have to work on spacing and timing, knowing the offense, knowing where to be. That part of the offense, we still have to grow in, but the defensive part I have been very pleased with.”

Price said this year’s team has its strengths and weaknesses and will rely on team development and a versatile bench.

“Our weakness is that we are still developing as a team,” he said. “We’re turning the ball over a little too much, but that comes with an inexperienced team. But, I do think our strength is that we have guys who can play multiple positions. We can put different combinations out on the floor night in and night out.”

Price said one way to test the toughness of the team is to throw them into a challenging non-conference schedule to see how they play and adapt in different environments.

“We set up the schedule hoping that would help us mature, grow and prepare us for the test that we will have when it comes to our conference play,” he said. “Georgia Tech is an early test, second game of the year in Atlanta — that’s going to be a tough one. Then, we leave there and go to East Carolina two nights later on the road. We’ve got SMU, which will be another tough one. We’ll play at the University of Houston, who had a good run last year playing in the NCAA tournament. Rice University will be another tough test on the road.”

Price said he thinks this year’s team is the closest team since he’s been at Lamar and expects that to carry them far.

“They have a brotherhood,” he said. “They have a family environment and it makes my job easier. Every day they compete against each other, tempers flare, but then they go right back off the court and they are close again.”

Price said all he’s worried about right now is getting better every day, and watching the team grow and improve.

“We want to get to a point where, as we grow and develop in non-conference, by the time we get to conference play we are hitting on all cylinders,” he said. “That’s something that I feel like we need to develop short term. I’m not really concerned about our opponents as I am about us right now. I’m more concerned about Lamar and what we need to do to get better, improve, develop and become one heartbeat.”

LU opens their season against Huston-Tillotson, Tuesday, at 7 p.m. in the Montagne Center before hitting the road to take on Georgia Tech and East Carolina.

Story by Cassandra Jenkins, UP editor

Category: Sports