LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin saw a missed opportunity last week.
The Ragin’ Cajuns were a half-game ahead of Texas-Arlington for fourth place in the Sun Belt going into Saturday’s game, but a second-half collapse against the Mavericks now has them outside the conference’s top four.
“It’s disappointing to be on that stage and play the way we did. It was our worst half of the year,” Marlin said. “We didn’t shoot the ball, we didn’t take care of the ball and we certainly didn’t defend.”
The defensive issues are particularly troubling for this team, particularly at guard, where Marlin said the issues have arisen from the Cajuns failing to keep their man in front.
“Our guys were trying the other day; we just weren’t very good,” Marlin said. “We’ve broken down defensively from the guard spot throughout the course of the year.”
Some of the defensive problems can be traced to when the Cajuns’ quick-strike offense is not operating at peak proficiency, which then exacerbates issues on the other end.
“We shoot the ball quick, and that can result in fast-break opportunities — and more opportunities, for sure — for the other team,” Marlin said. “It’s a combination of poor offense, poor shooting … versus a lot of turnovers and poor defense on the other end.”
The Cajuns are still in the thick of the SBC race, but they are running out of time. They take on the SBC leader, UL-Monroe, on the road Thursday before visiting Troy on Saturday.
“Two road games this week,” Marlin said. “We’ll see if we can play a little bit better defense and develop some consistency and leadership.”
A legend’s legacy
Marlin said he didn’t have a personal relationship with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith, who died Saturday at age 83, but Marlin said his impact on programs across the country is evident in how they mimic Smith’s tactics.
“We have a part of our daily practice plan where we have a thought for the day, then we have an offensive and defensive emphasis — and I got that from Coach Smith,” Marlin said. “I studied him and watched his teams play when I was young, and I certainly respect North Carolina and what he did for college basketball.”
Out with a bang
UT-Arlington junior guard Johnny Hill played his last game of the 2014-15 season against the Cajuns: He had season-ending surgery on his wrist after the Mavericks trounced the Cajuns 84-69.
Marlin knew ahead of time that it would probably be the last game of the year for Hill, who scored 16 points. He turned it into a lesson for his own players.
“He played like it was his last game,” Marlin said. “We told our players before the game that it was his last game, and we’ll see how hard he plays. I reminded them afterwards that sometimes you only have 40 minutes to play and make it happen, and this kid made the most of his time.”
It’s the little things
As disappointing as his team’s performance was against UT-Arlington, there was one part of the day Marlin came away pleased with.
After the game, the team visited with several children outside the locker room, spending time with them and signing autographs. Marlin said they handled the moment with grace despite the sting of the lopsided loss.
“That was the best thing that we did all day,” Marlin said. “That put things in perspective and got us focused on the next game.”