Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 8:55 PM
KATY, Texas — There was nothing McNeese State could do, and there’s probably nothing anyone could have done.
Southeastern Louisiana made one improbable shot after another and the Cowboys never had a chance in an 85-65 season-ending loss at the Southland Conference tournament. It was the first time in three years the Cowboys (14-17) ended their year short of the SLC title game.
“They didn’t open up any doors where we could make a run at them,” said McNeese coach Dave Simmons. “They just kept hitting every big shot that they needed to.”
The Lions (13-17) had their second-best shooting effort of the season, hitting 55.8 percent of their field goals (29 of 52).
“When you enter a one-game season, you want to give yourselves a chance with emotion and energy,” said SLU coach Jim Yarbrough. “That’s stuff you can’t always control, but the guys were really ready to play.”
The defining moment came midway through the second half after a 6-0 McNeese run cut SLU’s lead to 12. With the shot clock expiring, Lions guard Dre Evans launched an unsightly knuckleball of a 3-point attempt that bounced off the rim three times and down through the net.
“I looked at Coach (Dave) Dumars when that ball went in,” Simmons said. “When it hit the rim and bounced in, it kind of set the tone. We still had a lot of time left, but that was a big play for them. That deflated our guys. ‘What else can we do coach? We fought back and they hit shots like that.’”
Forward Desharick Guidry agreed that it was the biggest gut punch.
“After that shot went in, we were just kind of like, ‘Dang,’” Guidry said.
SLU was on fire all day, especially in the first half. The Lions took a 53-36 lead into the break after going 7 of 12 from 3-point range and 14 of 14 from the free-throw line.
“Really from the beginning we knew (we couldn’t be stopped),” said SLU forward Onochie Ochie, who had 15 points. “When we get good starts and hitting shots and working inside-out, we’re hard to stop.”
Guidry said SLU’s display was mentally draining as he would get into position for rebounds that never came.
“Being a good rebounder, when the ball’s not coming to my hand, it just kind of felt like …” Guidry said while shaking his head in disbelief.
Even if SLU hadn’t been shooting lights out, the Cowboys would have been up against the wall with point guard Dontae Cannon operating well under 100 percent.
Cannon pulled his groin muscle late in McNeese’s first-round win over Nicholls State on Wednesday, and sat on the bench for the last 8 minutes of his career when he could go no further. He finished with 10 points.
“Often we need Dontae Cannon fully healthy to beat anybody in this tournament,” Simmons said. “He fought through it and gutted it out. It was doubtful he’d play. But he wanted to go. We got more out of him than we expected. There’s injury and there’s playing through pain, and he was playing through pain the whole time.
“For him to come to me and say ‘I can’t do it,” you know it was time.”
Guidry led McNeese with 16 points and McFerrin had 15.
Five Lions were in double figures, with Brandon Fortenberry scoring a game-high 18. SLU excelled offensively despite the absence of No. 2 scorer Roosevelt Johnson, who was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered against Lamar last Saturday.
“You could see they pulled together as a team,” Simmons said. “If this was the day after Roosevelt got hurt, maybe we’d have a shot. But they had a week to prepare without him and obviously you could see the results.”