Katy, TX (Sports Network) - It might not be the matchup expected, but the fourth-seeded McNeese State Cowboys and the third-seeded Lamar Cardinals will vie for the Southland Conference Tournament title and the conference's spot in the NCAA Tournament, as the two squads face off in the championship game this afternoon at the Merrell Center.
It seemed like a forgone conclusion that top-seed Texas-Arlington would at least be in the title game after going 15-1 in league play this season. However, McNeese State put an end to that idea in knocking off Texas-Arlington in the semifinals. The Cowboys have found new life in the postseason with back-to-back wins after a four-game losing streak that closed out the regular season, including a 78-68 loss in the regular season finale to this same Lamar team.
That loss gave the squads a split in the season series after McNeese State posted a 57-54 win at home earlier in the year. The Cardinals now lead the all-time series 49-42, although the Cowboys have won three of the last four meetings.
Lamar is a little less of a surprise after a regular season in which the Cardinals finished 20-10 overall and led the East Division with an 11-5 league tally. The Cardinals took down second-seed Stephen F. Austin (55-44) in the semifinals and have now won five straight games including the regular season.
This is the first appearance in the title game for Lamar since the Cardinals won the event in 2000. McNeese State was in the title game last season, losing to Texas-San Antonio. The last time the Cowboys won this tournament was in 2002.
McNeese State didn't just upset Texas-Arlington, the Cowboys dominated in posting a 92-72 victory. In the game the Cowboys shot at a solid 54.2 percent clip and knocked down 11-of-24 shots from beyond the arc which was leaps and bounds better than the Mavericks, who finished the game a 37.3 percent shooting.
The offensive eruption was more of an aberration than a trend for McNeese State who averaged 67.6 points per game this season which ranked seventh in the Southland Conference this season. The Cowboys are also not accustomed to playing in blowouts as their scoring differential for the year stands at just +1.8 with a points allowed average of 65.8. McNeese State's moderate scoring came despite having the conference's best individual offensive threat. Patrick Richard (18.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) finished the season ranked atop the Southland in scoring, while adding solid rebounding numbers as well. In the semifinals he was at it again, putting in 20 points to lead three players who had at least 17 points. Dontae Cannon (11.5 ppg) was the team's second leading scorer this season and filled that role again by dumping in 18 points against UTA, while Jeremie Mitchell (11.0 ppg) added 17 points to help the Cowboys advance.
While McNeese State was racking up the points, Lamar found itself in a desperate struggle to find offense against Stephen F. Austin in the semifinals. The Cardinal prevailed despite scoring only 55 points on 44.4 percent shooting by keeping the Lumberjacks from finding a rhythm as the Cardinals defense help the second-seed to just 30.2 percent shooting while forcing 14 turnovers.
Struggling to score is not a problem Lamar has had to deal with very often this season. The Cardinals finished the season ranked third in the conference in scoring (74.1 ppg). Mike James (16.9 ppg) will be the Cardinals' answer to Richard after he finished the season ranked third in the conference in scoring. The senior guard was slightly off his normal output by netting 14 points in the semifinals. Fellow senior guard Anthony Miles picked up the slack and had a team-high 17 points and five assists in the win after ending the season second in scoring (14.7 ppg) and first in assists (4.1 apg) for the Cardinals. Devon Lamb (11.9 ppg, 8.1 rpg) gives the team a third reliable scorer and a potent weapon on the glass, ranking second overall in the Southland in rebounding. Charlie Harper (9.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg) is another solid rebounding guard for a squad that doesn't get much production in the paint.
03/10 10:51:01 ET