LAFAYETTE — Trailing by a point with 37.5 seconds remaining and coming off a couple of defensive stops, the Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team looked like it was in position to pull off a come-from-behind win against Louisiana-Monroe on Monday night.
Then the Ragin’ Cajuns were hit by what coach Bob Marlin termed a “communication breakdown.”
The Cajuns didn’t want to foul ULM forward Tylor Ongwae, who came into the game making 87.7 percent of his free throws, but they also needed to save some time for an offensive possession.
Instead, the Warhawks bled 35 seconds off the clock before the Cajuns fouled.
“We were stagnant on offense at times and unable to make the plays at the end,” Marlin said. “We wanted to foul earlier. We didn’t. It was a communication breakdown. It was kind of a strange ending. I’ve never coached in a game — and I’ve coached probably 1,000 games — never had one end like this one.”
ULM missed the free throw, giving the Cajuns a slim chance to get off a game-winning shot. But the Cajuns had to go the length of the court with 2.3 seconds remaining.
Rather than trying to cover that distance on the dribble before firing an off-balance heave, the Cajuns tried for a Hail Mary. Bryce Washington’s three-quarter-court pass was stolen by Ongwae, and he hit the first of two three throws to provide the final 57-55 score.
The Cajuns (10-8, 4-3 Sun Belt) have dropped three consecutive conference games after jumping out to a 4-0 start in league play.
Cajuns forward Shawn Long led all scorers with 19 points, and he added nine rebounds. Forward Devonta Walker chipped in 15 points. Ongwae had 13 as the lone double-digit scorer for the Warhawks (12-6, 6-1).
Marlin said he needs more production from his guards, who struggled shooting for the third straight game.
The Cajuns’ starting backcourt of Jay Wright and Kasey Shepherd went just 2-for-12 from the field. Reserve guards Xavian Rimmer, Hayward Register and Tiremone Williams combined to go 1-for-6, giving the Cajuns’ backcourt a 3-for-18 evening.
The Cajuns’ 55 points were their fewest since a 56-52 loss to Milwaukee on Nov. 24.
“That’s tough to do, to hold Lafayette to that kind of score,” ULM coach Keith Richard said. “That wasn’t great offense by either team, but a lot of guts and a lot of rebounding. Our zone was good most of the night.”
The Cajuns struggled to find their rhythm offensively against the Warhawks’ 2-3 zone in the first half.
Shepherd — the Cajuns’ best 3-point shooter — picked up two quick fouls less than two minutes into the game and found an early seat on the bench, where he stayed until the four-minute mark of the first half.
Without Shepherd, the Cajuns seemed to have trouble finding ways to beat the zone. The Cajuns got plenty of looks in the paint, but most were contested. And the way they were shooting, the Cajuns couldn’t really turn to their outside shot.
“We knew they would sit in a zone,” Marlin said. “But we didn’t move the ball. We weren’t crisp enough on offense.”
Long kept the Cajuns in the game with 11 first-half points, including the Cajuns’ lone 3-pointer of the half.
ULM wasn’t finding a ton of room to work offensively in the first half, taking only 27 shots, but it made the most of those shot attempts, shooting 48.1 percent in the first half.
The Warhawks led by as many as nine points in the opening half before the Cajuns found a little breathing room offensively and start to chip away at the lead.
Wright sparked the comeback with a pair of alley-oop assists — one to Long, the other to Brian Williams — to inject a little life into the Cajuns’ attack. They closed the gap quickly and went to the locker room trailing by only two.
The Cajuns will get a chance to end their skid Thursday at home against Arkansas State.
“We’ve just got to stay together,” Rimmer said. “Stay the course, stay together. We can make a run; I believe in this team. We’ve just got to knock down shots and play defense.”