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Tournament invite a chance for redemption

By Jonathan Rhodes
On March 12, 2018

Junior guard Marlain Veal had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists in the Southland Conference Tournament finals against Stephen F. Austin State University. Nikisun Shrestha/The Lion's Roar

The Lions basketball team has a second chance to play on the national stage against number one-seeded St. Mary’s College of California in the National Invitation Tournament. They were invited to the tournament prior to the Southland Conference Tournament where the Lions lost in the championship game to Stephen F. Austin State University 59-55.

This is the second Division I postseason appearance in the program’s history. Their last appearance was in the 2004-05 season.

Head Coach Jay Ladner is glad that the team has another chance to win a championship after an already historic season.

“It’s a great honor,” said Ladner. “It is only the second postseason invitation in the program’s history. Obviously, our goal was the NCAA, but we came up just a hair short. But to be able to go to such a prestigious event is a great reward for our guys. They deserve it. They have had a historical year. It’s great for them, and it’s great exposure for the school so the program can grow.”

The loss to Stephen F. Austin was a tough one to swallow for the Lions, especially because of they had the opportunity to make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years.

“I have never been in a locker room that was more devastated than our team was that night,” said Ladner. “They had put their heart and soul into it. It was their goal. We had an opportunity to win at the end, but things just did not fall our way, and they were absolutely devastated. This team has got great resolve, and they will bounce back quickly.”  

The Lions team has dealt with a lot of injuries this season and has played games without key players like redshirt senior forward James Currington, redshirt senior forward Jordan Capps and senior guard Jabbar Singleton. Ladner praised his players for their performance throughout the season.

“They have risen to the occasion every time,” said Ladner. “I’ve actually been bewildered just by how they have played and not make excuses. I’m just so proud of this team.”

St. Mary’s finished second place in the regular season of the West Coast Conference. The last time the Lions played St. Mary’s was in the 2001 Comcast Invitational with the Gaels winning 68-49.

Ladner respects his opponent and what the Lions will be up against tonight.

“St. Mary’s is a traditional basketball power,” said Ladner. “Most people were stunned that they did not make it to the NCAA Tournament. They are one of those teams that every year people are scratching their head asking, ‘How did they not make it in?’ With that being said, we are going to take this opportunity. We are playing one of the best teams in the country.”

Ladner hopes to make a good impression on the national spotlight in the tournament.

“Our goal is to become a national brand in basketball, and this gives us a national TV audience and all of the stuff that comes with it,” said Ladner. “We are really excited about playing, but we know that we got our hands full with one of the best teams in the field.”

Ladner does not believe that the travel to Moraga, California to play the game will be a problem for the Lions.

“This is an incredible turnaround for our team,” said Ladner. “I would not put anything past our guys. They are used to traveling, so that will not be a factor to them. It would be a lot more of a factor if St. Mary’s had to come to Hammond to play than us going to them. I am very confident that they will bounce back and give a great effort out there on Tuesday night.”

The game starts at 9 p.m. and can be seen on ESPNU.

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