LAFAYETTE — If there’s a team that wouldn’t be daunted by the fact that Louisiana Tech has won 35 consecutive home games, it’s Louisiana-Lafayette.
After all, the Ragin’ Cajuns (3-3) are the reason the Bulldogs (7-1) aren’t riding high with a 55-game winning streak at the Thomas Assembly Center.
“The team there has had a really good home record,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “I think they’d won (19) in a row when we beat them last time, (and) they haven’t lost since. That’s one home game they’ve lost in three-plus years.”
The Cajuns were indeed the last team to leave Louisiana Tech’s home court with a win: an 89-80 victory in 2013. Before that, Louisiana Tech had won every home game since a loss to Nevada in January 2012.
That 35-game home winning streak is tied with Wichita State for the second-longest active streak in the country. Only Arizona, which has won 42 straight, has had a better stretch at home.
But the Cajuns didn’t just hand Louisiana Tech its last home loss; they also beat the Bulldogs at the Cajundome last season in a 94-86 barn burner, giving Marlin a 2-0 record against Tech.
“We’ve kind of got the upper hand on those guys the last few years, so I know they’re going to give us their best shot,” Cajuns senior forward Shawn Long said.
A couple of key figures played big roles in both games against Tech.
Long has turned in double-doubles in both career games against the Bulldogs: 17 points and 12 rebounds in his first meeting, and 24 points and 15 rebounds in last year’s game. He’s averaging 19.8 points and 11.2 rebounds this season, both of which rank among the top 50 nationally.
Fellow Cajuns senior Kasey Shepherd also has put up some big games against the Bulldogs. He set a career high with a 22-point outburst on 8-of-10 shooting in 2013, then tallied 16 points and five assists in 33 minutes last season.
The Bulldogs counter with their own dangerous duo: forward Erik McCree and guard Alex Hamilton.
The pair have led the Bulldogs to their strong start this season. McCree is averaging a career-high 15.8 points to lead the team, and Hamilton is also averaging a career high with 15.5 points.
They each had big games against the Cajuns last season, combining for 52 points on 18-of-31 shooting, with McCree scoring 27 and Hamilton 25.
This isn’t quite the same Louisiana Tech team that made the NIT quarterfinals each of the past two years, though. Coach Mike White took over at Florida, and the Bulldogs hired Eric Konkol to lead their program. The Bulldogs also lost Conference USA Player of the Year Speedy Smith as well as Raheem Appleby (14.9 points per game) and Michale Kyser (2.8 blocks per game).
Saturday will mark the 161st meeting between the schools, which started playing each other in 1930. The Cajuns are keenly aware of the rivalry, but Marlin didn’t know it existed when he took the job.
The two teams had put their rivalry on hiatus for five years, including Marlin’s first three seasons, before they resumed it in 2013-14.
“It’s been a good series — two good teams that have gone at it,” he said. “We’re looking forward to continuing this series.”