Lions start strong, fall short in the end

Even with players reaching double digit points, the Lions men’s basketball team could not pull away with wins this past week.

On January 26 and January 30, the Lions (3-17, 1-6 Southland) played two teams to boost their Southland Conference record but could not come out on top.

In the first game against Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, the Lions kept the score tied for most of the first half. With a slow start, the defense came in strong and started to pick up early in the first quarter. 

With the help of the defense, freshman guard Marlain Veal completed a jump shot and a 3-pointer by JaMichael Hawkins brought the Lions up to a lead of 13-11 at the 13:41 mark. The Lions continued to fight, keeping the score tight the entire first half, but could not hold off the Islanders before the half ended. The Islanders took the lead 28-27 going into the second half of the game. 

“I think the team played well in the first half,” said senior guard Zay Jackson. “Some of the guys individually came out and played well in the second half. JaMichael [Hawkins], Josh [Filmore] and Marlain [Veal] had pretty good games in the first and second half.”

The Islanders jumped way ahead in the second half with their biggest lead at 59-38. Thanks to some important free throws, the Lions were able to add points to their score and shrink the point gap between them and Corpus Christi. The Lions could not hold off the Islanders, however, making the final score 73-63.

“They raised their intensity level and I didn’t think that we raised ours at the start of the second half,” said Head Coach Jay Ladner. “For about a four minute stretch, we kind of regrouped, battled back and had an opportunity to come back and win the game. I was proud of the comeback, but it was that stretch that was a difference in the ball game.”

Veal led the team with a career-high 16 points while junior forward Jordan Capps, junior Josh Filmore, Hawkins and freshman guard Dimi Cook also had double digit points. Filmore also had a career-high of seven rebounds.

With Filmore having a career high in rebounds, he shared his thoughts on the game and what he wants to improve on.

“We did okay [against Corpus-Christi],” said Filmore. “We made a few mistakes execution wise, and we had few dull moments where we lost our energy and intensity. I would like to improve on being a leader because we have a couple of freshmen on the team that are new. We have to show them what to do, how to react in certain situations.”

Saturday, the team travelled to Natchitoches to take on the Northwestern State University Demons. 

The Lions pulled ahead early in the first quarter, leading 16-3 with Capps having nine of those 16 points. Without the Lions putting points on the board, the Demons came ahead, leading with a score of 18-16. 

Later in the first half, the Lions took back their lead with a 9-0 run with Capps putting six of those points on the board. The Lions were leading 32-30 heading into halftime. The second half came out strong with the Demons taking the lead again, but the Lions could not recover making the final score 91-76.

Capps had a career-high of 19 points, while Veal had a career-high of nine assists and career-high of 18 points. Also scoring double digit points was guard Cook and Jackson with junior Dominic Nelson having a team-high of six rebounds. 

Scoring double digit points, Jackson shared how he thought the team has improved and how he wants to improve personally. 

“We are starting to play better together,” said Jackson. “We just have to learn how to win and finish out the game. What I really think I need to do is, I have to be a better leader for my teammates.”

With the regular season finishing up in early March, Ladner shared his goals for the end of the season.

“My goals are simply the same as our team’s goals,” said Ladner. “And I would like us, one, I think it would be great for us to be able to qualify for our conference tournament in the Southland Conference in the top 8 teams out of the 13 teams. That’s our first goal and our second goal, obviously is to advance in the conference tournament. And our ultimate goal is to win the conference tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament, which our school has only done one time in our history.”

You can catch the Lions in action at their next home game on February 6 at the University Center at 4:00 p.m. or listen live at KSLU 90.9 FM.