Cards Open New Year at Stephen F. Austin

GO CARDINALS Cards open Southland play at Stephen F. Austin.
Cards open Southland play at Stephen F. Austin.

Dec. 31, 2013


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After a grueling non-conference schedule, the Lamar Cardinals (1-11) will open Southland Conference play Thursday at No. 16 ( Mid Major Top 25 Poll) Stephen F. Austin. The defending Southland Conference regular-season champions are under the guidance of first-year head coach Brad Underwood. The Cardinals enter Thursday's contest looking to put an end to an eight-game skid, while SFA (11-2) has won eight-straight since dropping an eight-point decision at East Tennessee State in November.

In addition to the tough competition Lamar faced during its 2013-14 non-conference schedule, the team also had to face one of the toughest travel schedules in program history. The Cardinals played games on both coasts, in all four time zones and traveled more than 14,900 miles, in addition to playing three teams that competed in the 2013 NCAA Championships.

Despite losing three starters from last year's squad, SFA has had several players step up offensively this season. Sophomore Thomas Walkup and senior Deshaunt Walker have joined returning starters Jacob Parker (15.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Desmond Haymon (14.1 ppg) in double figures. Walkup is averaging 10.5 points per contest while Walker is scoring 11 off the bench.

Lamar also enters conference play with four players averaging double-digits led by junior college transfer Nimrod Hilliard. The Madison, Wis. native is currently eighth in the league averaging 15.6 points per game, and is second in the conference with just under five assists per game. Hilliard is joined by senior Amos Wilson (11.9 ppg), junior Donovan Ross (10.8 ppg) and sophomore Rhon Mitchell (10.2 ppg) in double-digit scoring for the Cardinals.

Over the course of the past five games, Lamar's offense has asserted itself as one of the tops in the Southland. Shooting better than 50 percent from the floor, the Cards are averaging nearly 75 points per game in its last five games, but will be facing the league's top defensive squad. Similar to last season, the Lumberjacks are holding opponents to a league-best 63.4 points per game.

Protecting the basketball will be key in Thursday's game. The Lumberjacks also enter conference play leading the Southland in turnover margin (+6.75). While the Cardinals have struggled at times this season, they are coming off a season-low nine turnovers Saturday at Colorado State.

Following the conference opener at Stephen F. Austin, the Cards will be back in action Saturday when they travel to Natchitoches, La. to take on Northwestern State. The game against the Demons is slated to tip off at 3 p.m. from Prather Coliseum.




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