LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s men’s basketball team wanted a high-scoring game for its Monday night Sun Belt Conference contest against Texas State. The visiting Bobcats, the league’s top defensive team, wanted to limit points and possessions.
Both got their wish.
The Ragin’ Cajuns got the game into the 80s for the fourth straight time, while Texas State struggled on both ends of the floor as UL-Lafayette rolled to an easy 81-58 victory.
The Cajuns (11-5, 2-1 Sun Belt) bolted out to a 16-point lead 13 minutes into the game, thanks in part to a barrage of five 3-pointers in a six-minute span. The hosts also forced a season-high 18 turnovers from first-year league member Texas State in the first meeting between the teams in more than a half-century.
“We were able to get into a rhythm early,” said Cajuns junior point guard Elfrid Payton, who had game-highs of 21 points, seven assists and six steals. “We had to impose our will on them. We tried to speed them up and get them to play our style of play.”
That style was on display much of the first half, especially in a 19-7 run that built a 31-15 lead at the 6:53 mark. Four players had 3-pointers in that run, with two coming from UL-Lafayette center Shawn Long.
In fact, his banked-in 3-pointer provided that 31-15 edge, and the Bobcats (5-12, 1-3) never got any closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
“We were very efficient,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said after his team shot 56.3 percent from the field and 57.1 percent from outside the arc and had only nine turnovers. “We shot it well from the perimeter in the first half, and then in the second half we were able to go inside-out a lot. We talked at the half about not backing off.”
The Cajuns led 42-26 at halftime, and three quick baskets in the first two minutes of the second half boosted the lead to 20 points. Payton had 13 of his points by halftime and finished 8-of-11 from the floor.
“He’s the best point guard we’ve seen,” Texas State coach Danny Kaspar said. “He’s very unselfish, and he’s a very intelligent player that puts forth a lot of effort. When you have a guy that can penetrate like that and your shooters are hitting when he kicks it out, it’s very hard to guard.”
Long finished with 18 points and nine rebounds in only 22 minutes. And Bryant Mbamalu, making his second start after missing the first 12 games with a foot injury, added 14 points including three 3-pointers.
“He’s our best shooter,” Marlin said. “Tonight he was finally able to be productive, and him playing 28 minutes was big. Even when he doesn’t score, his rebounding, defense, leadership, it all adds up.”
Texas State’s leading scorer, Joel Wright, finished with 17 points and a game-high 10 rebounds, but he also had eight of the Bobcats’ 18 turnovers. Emani Gant added 12 as Texas State’s only other double-figure scorer.
UL-Lafayette never trailed, but the Bobcats were still within 12-8 when Mbamalu hit a 3-pointer with 12:51 left in the first half. Long followed with a 3-pointer, and Kevin Brown and Payton each added treys in the next four minutes in building a double-digit lead. The Cajuns also had a run of three straight 3-pointers midway through the second half that provided a 63-41 lead with 10:32 left, with Peyton’s sixth steal setting up Kasey Shepherd for the last 3-pointer in that run.
“We were very active on defense,” Marlin said. “We got our hands on a lot of balls (to get 12 steals). I felt like of the 50-50 balls, we got about 80 percent of them.”