LAFAYETTE — Hayward Register did not have a point to his name in the first 37 and a half minutes against Arkansas State on Thursday.
Ten seconds into the 39th minute of the game, he had six huge points, and the Cajuns (14-8, 10-3 Sun Belt) rode his two big 3-pointers to their ninth consecutive win in game against the Red Wolves (11-13, 7-6) that was much closer than the 83-73 final.
“When I go in there, I’ve got one thing to do,” Register said. “That’s what I did.”
Those two 3-pointers, which came on back-to-back possessions, pushed the Cajuns lead from two points to eight points with 1:49 to go in the game, and they were the daggers in a 12-2 run to close the game.
But Register wasn’t the only one to catch fire late. The Cajuns used six 3-point baskets in the final 15 minutes — including a crucial 3-pointer from Elijah McGuire, a career-first — to erase an eight-point second-half deficit and steal the win. The Cajuns also clamped down on Arkansas State after the Red Wolves were hot early from beyond the arc.
“To have a good effort defensively in the second half and hit a couple of 3s to break it open was very important,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin.
It started when Shawn Long passed out of a double team from the left block to a wide open Kasey Shepherd in the right corner. Shepherd drained the shot to make it a four-point Red Wolves advantage.
After Arkansas State answered with a layup, the Cajuns went down and ran the same offensive set. Again, Shepherd was left open in the corner, and again he knocked down the shot.
Shepherd saw the opportunity earlier in the game when teammate Steve Wronkoski was open in the corner, but Long missed him with an errant pass.
“When I went in the game, I said ‘I’m going to go opposite of Shawn,’ ” Shepherd said. “When we threw it to Shawn, he saw me and I hit the first one. When we came back down, they did the same thing, and I’m thinking, ‘I just hit one in this spot, but OK.’
“They left me open again, I shoot it again — bang — six points right there.”
Shepherd’s triples were the beginning of an 18-7 run that the Cajuns used to propel themselves in front of the Red Wolves. The Cajuns didn’t take their first lead of the game until the 10:21 mark of the second half.
Long finished with a team-best 17 points and 15 rebounds, with only two of his points coming after halftime. Shepherd finished with 16 points, and sophomore guard Johnathan Stove slashed his way to 15 points to round out the Cajuns scorers in double figures.
As sharp as the Cajuns were from outside late in the game, Arkansas State controlled the perimeter early.
The first two buckets Arkansas State hit came from beyond the 3-point arc, and the Red Wolves finished their first half draining 5-of-10 shots from deep. Those five makes were spread out among five separate shooters.
The Cajuns, meanwhile, went 2-for-11 from deep in the opening period, with both makes coming courtesy of Shepherd. The rest of the team went a combined 0-for-7 from 3-point range.
Everything else was relatively equal in the opening period. The two teams played to a virtual draw in field goal percentage, rebounds, turnovers and free throws.
Still, Arkansas State was set to take a six-point lead into the halftime break before coach John Brady was called for a technical foul with 4.8 seconds to go in the half. Shepherd knocked down both the free throws off the technical, and Jay Wright hit one of his pair to send the Cajuns into the locker room trailing 42-39.
With Sun Belt Conference leader Little Rock losing in Monroe Thursday night, the Cajuns will be playing for a share of first place Saturday afternoon in the Cajundome.