HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Trailing by two points with 7.9 seconds left, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin drew up a play that gave Jay Wright several options to tie the game.
With the clock ticking down and the lane to the basket closing, the sophomore guard instead pulled back and put up a 3-pointer that swished through in the final second.
Wright’s clutch basket gave the Cajuns a dramatic 71-70 win over Sam Houston State in the second round of the College Insider.com tournament Saturday at the Bernard Johnson Coliseum.
“The plan was to attack the rim and pass it out to (leading scorer) Shawn (Long) if he is open,” Wright said. “I came down. I drove in as hard as I could. The defense cut me off, so I pulled back and made an open 3.”
After missing the front end of a 1-and-1 free-throw opportunity and missing a jumper just a minute earlier, Wright was still the man Marlin looked to in the huddle.
“I told him, ‘You are the hardest working guy on the court right now,’” Marlin said. “I said, ‘Go make a play and prove me right.’
“Jay Wright was huge. What a college basketball game.”
The Cajuns (22-13) will advance to the tournament quarterfinals, with the next round’s opponent, day and location still to be determined.
Wright finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting. His only 3-point attempt was the game-winner.
Long scored 14 points, while Devonta Walker added 13 and Kasey Shepherd came off the bench to score 11.
After leading by as much as 13 in the first half, the Cajuns came out flat after halftime and fell behind by five after a 16-2 SHSU run.
The Cajuns closed the game on a 7-2 run, capped by 11 second-half points by Wright.
“We adjusted after they caught fire in the second half, and we just kept fighting,” Wright said. “We were more aggressive, and we just guarded our man better.”
Shepherd provided a lot of that energy, grabbing five rebounds and finishing with a game-high three steals.
“It just shows how tough we are and how much heart we have,” Shepherd said. “It was a big win for us.”
SHSU (26-9) was led by Dakarai Henderson’s 16 points, while DeMarcus Gatlin scored 14 and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Paul Baxter added 10 points and four assists.
“I thought we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole in the first half, but I knew our guys would respond,” Bearkats coach Jason Hooten said.
“We came out and outplayed them in the second half. We just needed one more stop.”
UL-Lafayette shot 52.2 percent for the game and made 5-of-11 from 3-point range. SHSU shot 40 percent, but 14 offensive rebounds kept the game close.
The Bearkats led 68-64 with 2:23 left. Two Walker free throws drew the Cajuns to within 2.
After a defensive rebound by Bryce Washington, Wright was fouled by Michael Holyfield. He missed the front-end of the 1-and-1 and then a jumper at the 1:04 mark.
“Coach Marlin told me after I missed the free throws that I’m going to win this game for us,” Wright said.
“He gave me the confidence when he pulled me to the side. I just wanted to win the game.”
The Cajuns tied the game at 68 after two Shepherd free throws with :37 left, but the Bearkats took the lead on an Aurimas Majauskas basket with seven seconds left.
UL-Lafayette then called timeout to set up what turned into the winning play.
“We knew we had plenty of time,” Marlin said. “We put Haywood (Register) and Shawn back in the game. We gave Jay the option to take it if he had the alley or throw it out to Hayward or Kasey or Shawn on the step back.
“Jay just dribbled into it and made a huge shot. I certainly wanted to let him make the play. He is a tough kid, and he was hard to guard. He didn’t play his best at times today, but he came through and made a play to win it.”