What shooting slump?
A Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball squad that was mired in misery from the field for three games let Shawn Long take control in the first half Thursday night ... and then let everybody take control after halftime.
The result was a 96-59 drubbing of Arkansas State, snapping a three-game losing streak with the largest margin of victory in the half-century-old series and the Ragin’ Cajuns’ largest Sun Belt Conference victory margin in over a decade.
“We made shots,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin, whose team led by at least 25 points the entire second half. “Once we got it going and broke the ice, the rim started looking real big to those guys.”
Long scored a season-high 27 points in only 19 minutes, with the 6-foot-9 junior hitting all five of his 3-point attempts including four in a 21-point first half. The rest of the Cajuns then went 10-of-11 outside the arc in the second half, after the squad had gone 2-of-18 from 3-point range in a disappointing 57-55 home loss to UL-Monroe on Monday night.
“Are you kidding?” said Red Wolves coach John Brady of the Cajuns’ 3-point marksmanship. “It’s hard to shoot like that with nobody guarding you.”
In that recent three-game slide, UL-Lafayette (11-8, 5-3) hadn’t made over 39 percent of its shots in any game. On Thursday, the Cajuns were at 63.6 percent (14-of-22) outside the arc and 55.2 percent (32-of-58) overall, even though Marlin substituted liberally in both halves and all but one roster player saw at least nine minutes of action.
The Cajuns starters never played after the 15-minute mark of the second half, but the rest of the squad continued to stretch the advantage over an ASU team that had won two of its last three Sun Belt games. Marlin said utilizing the bench would help with the quick turnaround, with UL-Lafayette playing a return bout at Georgia State at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Cajuns blew out to a 13-4 lead in the first six minutes and never looked back, taking a 51-28 halftime lead on, fittingly, Long’s 3-pointer just before the halftime horn. UL-Lafayette then hit its first six shots from the floor in the second half.
“The script played out just the way we wanted it to,” Marlin said. “We needed to score some in transition. We wanted to utilize the bench. We wanted to push the ball, and we did all that in the first half.”
Point guard PJ Hardwick, the Sun Belt leader in assists, was the only double-figure scorers for ASU with 17. The Red Wolves hot only 37.9 percent, were 3-of-14 from 3-point range, were outrebounded 40-29 and had 17 turnovers.
The Red Wolves (8-10, 3-6) only led once at 2-0 on Charles Waters’ inside basket 30 seconds in, and Long answered with the first of his four 3-pointers before halftime to start a 7-0 run.
Long then had an 11-point spurt by himself in a period of less than three minutes later in the half, including a 22-second stretch in which he made another 3-pointer at the 7:53 mark, got a defensive rebound 13 seconds later and took it coast-to-coast for a twisting layup and was fouled. His free throw made it 29-15 and was part of a 10-0 Cajuns run.
“That was a big-time play,” Marlin said of Long’s half-minute of domination. “He was very efficient offensively (10-of-11 shooting). Early we didn’t run anything right at him, we ran some things for other guys, but he just started naturally fitting in the flow of the game. He looked like he was playing pick-up out there. It always helps us when he gets off to a good start.”
That good start rarely wavered. Six different players made 3-pointers in the second half including four by Hayward Register off the bench in the final 8:28. Register, a Comeaux High graduate who played only six minutes in the last two games, gunned in a career-high 19 points in 14 minutes.
“We didn’t want to let them get back in the game in the second half and we didn’t,” Marlin said. “We played good up until about the eight-minute time out when we started giving some baskets away, but overall it was a really good 40 minutes.”
Brady, in his seventh season at ASU after a decade as head coach at LSU, agreed on the Cajuns’ performance, and not so much for his own team.
“We got beat in every way, shape and form,” he said. “I don’t like it in any way whatsoever. Lafayette played extremely well, but we didn’t do anything to stop them with any consistency.”
It was a game they really needed, they responded and we didn’t.”