Cowboys back in saddle
Return to SLC Tournament after three-season absence
March Madness is here, and every team’s record is once again 0-0.
After a regular season that had the highest of highs and lowest of lows, the McNeese men’s basketball team earned a trip to the Southland Conference Tournament thanks to a late Dru Kuxhausen 3-pointer to beat Lamar on Saturday.
The Cowboys (15-16) and Cardinals (15-16) met twice in the regular season, with each team going into the opposing arena and leaving victorious. A season series can’t get much closer, with Lamar outscoring McNeese 162-161 in both games during the regular season.
The score will be settled for good when No. 7 seed McNeese and No. 6 seed Lamar will play for the third and final time this season tonight in the first round of the SLC Tournament at the Leonard E. Merrell Center in Katy, Texas.
“Obviously we’re looking forward to going and playing in the conference tournament,” McNeese head coach Heath Schroyer said. “This is championship week and we’re obviously excited to be a part of it. I told our guys (on Sunday) in our meeting that our goal isn’t just to get into the tournament. We’re here to win the tournament.”
If the Cowboys are going to go all the way, it starts by beating a Lamar team that has proven to be a challenge in both games that had familiar patterns, with the winning team jumping out to a big lead early and the losing team fighting back late, but still falling short.
One of the biggest differences in the games, and a major difference in McNeese losing at home and then going on the road to win, was defense. In the loss, the Cowboys allowed Lamar to shoot 50.8 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range. The 14 3s that the Cardinals hit in the win over McNeese on Feb. 1 tied for the third-most that the Cowboys allowed in a game.
Contrast that to Saturday, when McNeese held Lamar to 31.8 percent shooting and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. Lamar sophomore Davion Buster scored 39 points on 11 of 18 3-point shooting when the Cardinals beat McNeese, and he was held to 10 points on 2-of-7 shooting from the field in Saturday’s game.
“There’ll be a lot of people,” Schroyer said when asked how McNeese will guard Buster tonight. “I think you have to rotate multiple guys on him. I think he’s a phenomenal player. He had our attention obviously from the jump. We’ll rotate everyone through him to be honest.”
When McNeese is on offense, Schroyer said to he expects senior forward Sha’markus Kennedy to be double-teamed when the ball is passed to him in the post. They’re hoping Kennedy will make the correct pass that leads to finding the open person for a good shot. Lamar will also pay plenty of attention to Kuxhausen, who didn’t have his best shooting game (5 of 14 from 3-point range) against Lamar on Saturday, but he got the big shot when needed.
“I’m guessing it’s going to be tough,” Kuxhausen said. “They’re a really good team. And we split with them now, so I think they’re going to be ready to play. We’re going to be ready to play, so I think it’ll be a good game.”
McNeese forward Truman Moore is working his way back from a concussion he suffered last Friday and is questionable for tonight’s game. At Monday’s practice, he was seen riding a stationary bike. Junior guard A.J. Lawson is hobbled from an ankle injury he suffered on Feb. 8 against Central Arkansas.
In spite of the injury, Lawson has been effective, averaging 9.4 points and five assists in his last seven games since the injury. McNeese is 3-4 in those seven games, with Lawson averaging 14 points and 6.3 assists per game in the wins. He didn’t crack double figures in the losses.
The road to the championship game involves playing four games in four days, something Schroyer said he believes his team can physically handle. The winner of tonight’s game will meet No. 3 seed Nicholls State on Thursday.