LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team survived a rough, self-imposed 22-minute stretch without its star player and remained undefeated at home with a 79-69 win against UNO on Monday night in the Cajundome.
The decision to sit Long in the first half was based in his performance in the latter stages of the Cajuns’ loss to Pepperdine last week.
“He didn’t play good in the second half (against Pepperdine),” coach Bob Marlin said. “None of us did really; it was kind of unfair to Shawn. But he and I talked about it last night, and I said, ‘I’m just going to give you some time off.’ ”
Returning home after a three-game road swing and playing without their talented big man, the Cajuns (4-6) struggled to put the ball in the basket.
“We’ve been on the road for quite a while, and I think it showed,” Marlin said. “I think our legs were tired tonight, especially in the first half. We didn’t have the extra step that we needed.”
Using a four-guard starting lineup, the Cajuns missed their first six shots and 15 of their first 17, many of which came on good looks.
They finished the first half shooting 11-for-36 from the floor, 1-for-10 from 3-point range and 11-for-18 from the free-throw line, but the Privateers (3-7) were unable to take advantage of the Cajuns’ poor shooting.
UNO’s largest lead was six, and it mostly hovered between three and five as the Privateers couldn’t come up with the big shot either.
“It had to be on the defensive end,” Marlin said. “We relied on our defense and rebounding to win the game.”
The Cajuns limited the Privateers to 38.3 percent shooting for the game and enjoyed a plus-11 margin on the boards, and it kept them in the game until they started to get shots to fall late in the first half.
A pair of Bryce Washington layups and four free throws by Jay Hedgeman gave the Cajuns an 8-0 run late in the first half that put them ahead for the first time since they led 3-2 just a few minutes into the game.
Washington (nine points), Hedgeman (eight) and Johnathan Stove (10) accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Cajuns’ first-half scoring.
Afterward, the Cajuns expressed the importance of staying focused while shots weren’t falling.
“The key word is poise,” Washington said. “Basketball is a game of runs. They went on a run, we went on a run — it’s basketball. Coach Marlin always told us just to get more mature mentally, and I think we’re really getting better mentally. That’s the big key. That’s going to be a big key for us in conference.”
Even with the off shooting effort, the Cajuns went to the locker room with a 35-34 lead.
Long didn’t check in until the 17:13 mark of the second half. He made his presence known immediately with a defensive rebound on his first possession, and an offensive rebound and putback bucket on his first trip to the other end of the court.
After a slow first half without their best offensive player, the Cajuns started to find a bit of a groove in the second half. Unfortunately for them, so did UNO.
The teams traded buckets for much of the second half; neither team was able to build a lead of more than three until Hayward Register drilled a 3-pointer with 3:24 remaining to put the Cajuns up by five.
“Two possessions is huge in a game like this,” Marlin said before noting that the lead changed 20 times. “This game went back and forth.”
After a UNO free throw, Long drove the lane and delivered a three-point play on the next possession to push the lead to seven.
The Privateers weren’t able to recover from that; the Cajuns closed the game with a 15-2 run.
In 17 minutes, Long nearly finished with another double-double. He made five of his seven shots and all three of his free-throw attempts on his way to 13 points and eight rebounds.
Stove and Washington led the Cajuns with 16 points apiece; Privateers guard Christavious Gill led all players with 17 — 15 in the second half.
This is the Cajuns’ last official game of the calendar year. They play an exhibition contest against Spring Hill on Dec. 30 before starting Sun Belt play in earnest Jan. 2 against Appalachian State.