By now, most sports fans have heard the story of first-year Lamar head coach Pat Knight's like-father-like-son postgame rant after Lamar's Feb. 22 loss to Stephen F. Austin.
He called his senior class the worst group of seniors he's ever been associated with on a basketball team and basically called them a bunch of criminals for having stolen money from the school for years by being on scholarship and not earning it.
The Cardinals had one of two ways to go after that. They could have proven their coach right and tanked it down the stretch, or they could have done what they did: win six consecutive games that secured a Southland Conference East Division regular-season title and then a Conference tournament championship win over McNeese State to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
In either scenario, Knight's approach put him in a position to look good. Either the senior class he didn't recruit would prove him right and blow a good thing in his debut season, or the team would make his rant look like a motivational masterpiece by winning out.
Fans of the team that hadn't been to an NCAA Tournament since 2000 (and hadn't even been to a Southland Conference tournament in the previous three seasons) were happy the latter scenario played out.
Lamar played an opening-round game against Vermont (23-11) in a Midwest Region game Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio. The winner plays top-seeded North Carolina two days later in Greensboro, N.C.
"I knew that we had talent on this team, and hiring Coach Knight just meshed it all together," senior guard Anthony Miles said. "After three years in a row of not making the Conference tournament, I will take that if this is the result. It was a long, hard-fought season, and we just did it."
Miles and fellow senior guard Mike James are scoring threats who have a combined three 30-point games this season (one for Miles, two for James). They have averaged a combined 31.7 points per game entering the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Devon Lamb is only 6-foot-2, but his 10 double-doubles ranked second in the Southland this year.
The Cardinals like to get streaky from the perimeter, but like any Knight team, they do the little things well and rank among the league's best in several statistical categories. They don't turn the ball over, they play physical defense, they rebound well and they hit their free throws.
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