Trip to China gave Ragin’ Cajuns guard Jay Wright some food for thought _lowres

Advocate staff photo by ANGELA MAJOR -- University of Louisiana at Lafayette's Jay Wright (1) moves the ball past Georgia Southern's Mike Hughes (2) on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, during their game at the Cajundome.

Fresh off its first postseason tournament win since the 1991-92 season, the UL-Lafayette men’s basketball team hopes to keep its late-season momentum going in the tournament.

But it’ll face a tough challenge in playing on the road against Sam Houston State (26-8), which has more wins this season than any team in the CIT field. The Cajuns (21-13) enter the game having won eight of their last nine.

“There were 148 teams that got to play in the post season this week,” Sam Houston coach Jason Hooten said. “At the start of next week, more than half of those teams will be done. The Ragin’ Cajuns and the Bearkats both want to be one of the teams that are still playing. It ought to be a great game.”

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Cajuns coach Bob Marlin spent 12 seasons at the helm of the Bearkats program, and he left as the winningest coach in school history with a 225-131 record. Hooten took Marlin’s place after spending time as an assistant on Marlin’s staff.

The Bearkats thrashed UNC-Wilmington 87-71 in the opening round of the CIT, where they were the beneficiary of a surprising performance off the bench from sophomore forward Aurimas Majuskas.

In just 19 minutes, Majuskas sank 9 of his 11 shot attempts from the field, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc, to pour in 27 points in the win. Majuskas entered the game averaging 7.5 points in 13.8 minutes per game.

It’s an example of Sam Houston’s depth, with several players that can contribute to the scoring effort.

After Majuskas’ big night bumped his scoring average to 8.1, there are now seven players on the Bearkats’ roster averaging better than 8 points per game.

All seven of those players have led Sam Houston in scoring during various games this season, and they frequently traded out being the lead guy. Jabari Peters led the Bearkats 10 times, Kaheem Ransom nine times, and four other players led the team either four or five times.

The Bearkats also have 6-foot-11, 260-pound center Michael Holyfield to provide some size in the middle, which proved to be the downfall of an undersized Incarnate Word squad against the Cajuns in the first round.

The Cajuns ran with their size advantage against Incarnate Word in the CIT’s first round, frequently dishing low to forwards Shawn Long and Bryce Washington, who combined for 36 points and 13 rebounds in the Cajuns 83-68 win.

With Incarnate Word focused on stopping Long, Washington scored a career-high 25 points in the game and led the Cajuns to a 44-28 advantage in points scored in the paint.

“We’ll try to do more of the same thing,” Washington said. “I think Shawn is going to have a big game even though they have a big guy. Shawn’s a great player, and we can feed off of him, he can make plays on the defensive end, and he made some great passes.

“They may double him sometimes or they may double me, so we have to make the great passes to the shooting guards.”

Down by double digits in the first half against Incarnate Word, the Cajuns roared to life in the second half, outscoring the Cardinals 49-29. It’s another sign of progress for a relatively young team that struggled at times to finish games in the second half this season.

While the obvious goal is to wind up as tournament champions, Marlin sees another benefit for a team that is starting two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior.

“That’s why we’re continuing to play,” Marlin said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to continue to practice and play, there’s no do-overs at this stage, you have to continue to play and play well.

“If we play like we did the second half (against Incarnate Word), we’ll have an opportunity to win this game.”