Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin has lamented his team’s defensive performance during a swoon that now includes five losses in six games.
Saturday, at least, he can point his Ragin’ Cajuns to an example of a defense to be emulated.
By the numbers, Texas State has the Sun Belt Conference’s most effective defense, with the Bobcats the only squad in the 11-team league holding opponents to an average of less than 60 points per game. The Cajuns (11-10, 5-5 Sun Belt) are the league’s most potent offense, making Saturday’s 4:30 p.m. contest at TSU’s Strahan Coliseum an interesting contrast in styles.
UL-Lafayette is averaging 80.5 points per game overall and 79 per outing in Sun Belt play, both marks far and away the league’s best. The Cajuns have scored 80 or more 13 times this season, including seven times in 10 Sun Belt games, but they’ve lost four times despite topping that scoring average.
The reason: Opponents are hitting 46.5 percent from the floor against UL-Lafayette in Sun Belt play, again the league’s worst number.
“I’ve never had a team defend this poorly,” said Marlin, who recently went over 300 career wins in his 17th season as a Division I head coach. “We worked all this week on getting better defensively.”
The result of that work was a blistering shooting performance by South Alabama in an 89-85 Cajuns loss in Mobile on Thursday night.
The host Jaguars only missed nine shots in the second half in a 62.5 percent showing, and for the game the Jaguars hit 58.3 percent after making only 19-of-64 shots (29.7 percent) in their previous outing. USA’s second and third-best team shooting marks this year have come against the Cajuns, both of them in 89-point performances.
Now, Louisiana-Lafayette will face a team that has battled offensive issues all season. Texas State (10-9, 4-6) has lost four in a row and hasn’t hit the 60-point mark in any of its last three including a 64-58 home loss to Appalachian State last Saturday in its last game.
But the Bobcats make up for their offensive woes — TSU is shooting 37.6 percent in conference play — with defensive toughness. Opponents are scoring only 59.2 points per game against the Bobcats, who are forcing a league-high 16.6 turnovers per game.
“It’ll be a different kind of game,” Marlin said. “They (Texas State) don’t shoot it as well as in the past, and they’ve struggled at times offensively, but they still play very tough defense.”
The Cajuns took a pair of wins over TSU in the Bobcats’ first Sun Belt season last year, but had to fight off cold shooting and rallied from 12 points down in the final eight minutes in a 67-66 victory in San Marcos. Xavian Rimmer’s three-point basket with 11.6 seconds left erased a two-point deficit and Elfrid Payton had a steal on TSU’s final possession.
Shawn Long had 20 points and 13 rebounds in that game and is coming off his eighth double-double of the season Saturday with 26 points and 12 boards in the loss at USA. Long now has a nation-leading 44 double-doubles in his career, one ahead of UC Santa Barbara’s Alan Williams.
But other than Long and guard Kasey Shepherd, who had 20 points and a career-high five three-pointers Thursday, the rest of the Cajun squad shot only 13-of-40 from the field. UL-Lafayette had a nine-minute stretch in the second half when Long had 10 points and the rest of the squad had zero.
“The second half we just couldn’t get any momentum going,” Marlin said, “and we couldn’t contain them. We ran five different defenses and threw everything we had at them and it didn’t slow them down. We have to be better than that.”
Saturday’s game wraps up a three-game road swing for the Cajuns, who return home next Thursday to meet Appalachian State at 7:15 p.m. in the first of two straight in the Cajundome. UL-Lafayette has only won twice this year on opposing floors, but both of those have come in Sun Belt play.
“There’s still a long way to go,” Marlin said. “Even with everything that happened, we still had the ball with a chance to tie the game in the last minute (Thursday). We just have to put that behind us.”
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE AIMS TO GET BACK ON TRACK: The Cajuns face Texas State at 2 p.m. at Strahan Coliseum looking to bounce back from a 57-47 loss to South Alabama on Thursday.
In that game, Keke Veal scored a game-high 14 points for Louisiana-Lafayette (13-6, 5-5 Sun Belt) while Kia Wilridge chipped in with 12.
The Bobcats (12-7, 7-3) are riding three-game winning streak after a 67-58 win over Appalachian State last Saturday.