BEAUMONT – Senior guard Mike James came off the bench to score 25 points Saturday night at the Montagne Center, leading a quartet of double-figure scorers in Lamar University’s decisive 80-63 basketball win over rival Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Cardinals improved to 5-3 on the year with the win, and evened the all-time series with the Ragin’ Cajuns (4-6) at 41 wins apiece. Lamar will play its last game before final exams Monday night at 7 p.m. as Texas-Pan American visits the Montagne Center. UTPA is 2-7 and will come to Beaumont after losing to No. 2 Ohio State, 64-35.
Lamar trailed by six points in the first half, falling behind 21-15 with 8:19 to play. A 16-9 run capped by a pair of Brandon Davis free throws gave the Cards a 31-30 lead with 1:38 to play in the first half that they would never surrender.
LU carried a 38-34 lead into the halftime locker room on the strength of 11 offensive rebounds. The Cardinals outscored the Cajuns 11-4 on second chance points in the first half, and also turned 10 UL-Lafayette turnovers into 16 points.
“All the hustle plays give you momentum,” said LU head coach Pat Knight. “We weren’t getting any of them the first 15 minutes. When you make hustle plays, it gets the crowd into it for one, it gets our players into it and it gets some energy to the team that gets you playing better at both ends.”
James, who had missed three games due to a suspension, scored 15 of his 25 points in the first half as he carried much of the offensive load. Brandon Davis added seven of his 10 points in the first 20 minutes, giving the Cardinals a 24-9 advantage in bench points in the first half.
“I think taking better shots is the key to making Coach Knight happy with my play,” said James who was a solid 11-of-17 from the field in the game. “He just said that if I could score going to the basket, it would be better for our offense. He said I don’t need to settle for just shooting threes.
“Being out for a couple of games got my mind right. It was hard to sit and watch my teammates play. It’s more fun to be out there with them.”
Raymone Andrews buried a 3-pointer with 16:08 to play in the game to pull the Cajuns to within two points at 41-39. However, Lamar scored the next five points to push its lead to seven, and UL-Lafayette never got closer than five the rest of the way.
A James steal and layup gave Lamar its first double-digit lead at 56-45 with 11:32 to play. Davis then hit a 3-pointer, followed by a Charlie Harper three-point play and a Devon Lamb offensive rebound and putback, and Lamar’s lead ballooned to a game high 19 with 8:43 to play.
The Cardinals shot a torrid 58.3 percent from the floor in the second half in outscoring the Cajuns 42-29 after the break. Lamar also finished with a 40-30 rebound advantage, including ripping down 17 off the offensive end.
Lamar’s defensive intensity picked up in the second half, which also added up to easy offense. The Cards limited UL-Lafayette to just 10-of-30 shooting in the second half, and 40.0 percent aim for the game.
James and Davis combined for 35 off the Cardinals 39 bench points, helping Lamar outscore UL-Lafayette by 26 in bench points. Lamar also enjoyed a 26-10 advantage in points off turnovers in the game, picking up 12 steals and turning many of them into easy baskets.
While it was mostly James and Davis leading the offense in the first half, Lamb and Anthony Miles led the way in the second half. Lamb scored 11 of his 12 points in the second half, adding eight rebounds and four steals.
Miles, who leads the team in scoring at 17.0 points per game, scored 10 points in the second half to finish with 16. He matched his season-high with eight assists, and also added six rebounds and two steals in 33 minutes of work.
“He can play,” said Knight of Miles. “The kid’s just a good basketball player. The kid competes, and I need to be more careful to give him more of a rest. I think sometimes we leave him out there a little too long.”
It was Miles who provided the final dagger in the contest. While the Cajuns never got their deficit back to single digits, they had gone on a little run to pull within 12 at the 3:28 mark. Miles stepped into a 3-pointer on Lamar’s next possession and buried it from the top of the key to push Lamar’s lead back to 15.
Andrews led the Cajuns with 16 points, scoring all of them in the second half. Josh Brown added 13 points and a game-high nine rebounds, while four other players scored seven points each.