Wildcats Cruise Past Howard Payne in Season Opener

PINEVILLE, La. – The Louisiana College men’s basketball team finally got the chance to open its 2020-21 season and did so in resounding fashion by leading wire-to-wire in a 72-51 ASC win over Howard Payne Yellow Jackets Thursday night at H.O. West Fieldhouse.

After the Wildcats controlled the opening tip, Galen Smith, Jr. started his LC career in fine fashion by scoring the game’s first four points on back-to-back possessions and the Wildcats would not look back.

Howard Payne hung around for the first 12 minutes as the largest LC lead up to that point was just six points. But with the Wildcats up 18-13, back-to-back buckets by Kae’ron Baker and Malik Cooper pushed the lead to nine at 22-13 and was the start of a big run that finally gave the Wildcats some distance on the Yellow Jackets. The 17-5 run culminated on a pair of free throws by Ferontay Banks that gave LC its largest lead of the first half at 35-18 with just three minutes left before the break.

But HPU closed out the first half with a solid push, scoring eight of the period’s final ten points, including a fast break lay-up at the buzzer, to cut the LC lead to 37-26 at the break.

Out of the break, HPU continued to just hang around, continuing to slowly chip away at the Wildcat lead, cutting it to as low as eight points just more than three minutes into the second period.

The Wildcats were finally able to put away the scrappy Yellow Jackets midway through the second 20 minutes. Holding a 46-37 advantage, Malik Cooper drove the line and found Bailey Hardy open in the corner, who sank the three-ball to kick off a 10-0 LC run that all but put the game away. Galen Smith capped the run with a pair of lay-ups to make it a 56-37 LC advantage with less than nine minutes left.

HPU would only get as close as 14 points the rest of the way, but another 7-0 run by LC made sure there would be no comeback as Trey Ames got into the paint for a lay-in to give the Wildcats a 63-42 lead with 4:45 left. LC’s largest lead of the game would be 22 points, which they achieved three times in the closing minutes, the last time coming off of a pair of KJ Bilbo made free throws to make it 72-50 with less than a minute remaining.

“As a coach, I could complain about so much that didn’t that didn’t go right and how we need to get better in this area or that area,” said Louisiana College Athletic Director and Head Men’s Basketball Coach Reni Mason. “But in light of what we’ve endured just to make it to the game, I will say that we are grateful. It was good to be playing again and I am happy for our guys to come out of this game with the win.”

Back to lead for his senior season, Kae’ron Baker tied for game high honors for both points and assists with 16 and six, respectively. Galen Smith, Jr. was just two rebounds shy of his first career double-double, tying game-high honors with 16 points while also grabbing eight rebounds. Bailey Hardy was LC’s final double-figure scorer with 13 points in the win. Malik Cooper made his presence felt on the boards as he grabbed 14 rebounds to go along with eight points.

As a team, Louisiana College shot 43.8% by dominating in the paint, outscoring HPU (0-6, 0-2 ASC) 40-24 in the lane while also holding an 11-rebound advantage over the Yellow Jackets, 39-28, including a 16-6 advantage on the offensive glass that turned into a 15-4 advantage in second chance points for the Wildcats, all while holding the Yellow Jackets to just 36.7% overall from the field.

 The Wildcats (1-0, 1-0 ASC) finish off the first week of conference action at home on Saturday afternoon as Sul Ross State comes to town. Tip-off against the Lobos (3-4, 1-1 ASC) is set for 1:00 P.M. at H.O. West Fieldhouse.