The University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team ran into a motivated McNeese State squad Saturday in Lake Charles, and the result was an 80-70 Cowboy victory that was no fluke.
Get used to it, Cajuns coach Bob Marlin told his players in a long locker-room session after that loss.
“Every time we play an in-state team, they’ll want to beat the team that went to the NCAA tournament,” Marlin said Monday. “That’s where we all want to get to.”
Shooting woes doomed the Cajuns (3-4) on Saturday in their fifth road game in six outings, with UL-Lafayette going 3-for-20 from 3-point range and 9-of-19 from the free-throw line against the Cowboys. Marlin is hoping that a return to familiar surroundings in the Cajundome on Wednesday against old rival Louisiana Tech will cure some of those woes.
“We didn’t move the ball, we certainly didn’t move our people,” Marlin said of the McNeese loss. “We had very little player movement. We changed our offense to try to get a little bit of motion with ball screens, but our guards did not attack and get us in the proper offense.
“But the bottom line is we didn’t make shots. We can’t win at 3-for-20 and 9-for-19 no matter who we play.”
The visiting Bulldogs would agree on that point. Tech (7-1) has lost only once at home in the past three seasons, but that loss came last December when the Cajuns snapped an eight-game losing streak in Ruston with an 89-80 win. UL-Lafayette shot 50 percent in that game, made almost half of its 3-pointers and was 22-of-31 at the line, while the Bulldogs hit 41.6 percent from the floor and went 4-for-20 and 12-for-21 from the arc and the line.
Tech went on to finish 29-8 and won two games in the NIT, so in effect, the home loss — Tech’s first since Jan. 28, 2012, to Nevada — cost the Bulldogs a 30-win season. The Cajuns ended up 23-12 and won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to claim an NCAA tournament slot.
“We know they’re going to be ready for us,” Marlin said of Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game at the Cajundome. “They want to get to the NCAAs, and they’ve got a senior team, so we’re going to get their best shot.
“Games like this and McNeese, these are long-standing rivalries. Saturday, it was a Super Bowl for (the Cowboys), a game they wanted to win very much, and they played like it.”
The Cajuns played Saturday without point guard Jay Wright, who was sidelined with a virus after starting three straight games and five of the first six. Wright had six points, six rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals one game earlier in a 76-53 win over Jackson State.
“We didn’t think it was going to be a big issue, but it turned out it was a big issue not to have Jay there,” Marlin said. “We had talked a lot about adjusting to their changing defense and playing at the right pace. We were up 8-0, and after that, we didn’t attack the zone well. We ran four different offenses and had success with only one.”
Wright returned to practice Monday and is expected to be back in the lineup Wednesday. His absence meant that the Cajuns have used six different starting lineups in seven games. Shawn Long had his first double-double of the season — after leading the nation with 36 career double-doubles entering the year — with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The Cowboys, though, had a pair of double-double performances in taking a 47-38 rebound advantage, with the hosts getting 17 offensive rebounds. UL-Lafayette is 3-0 this year when they’ve outrebounded their opponents and 0-4 when they’ve trailed on the boards.
“We have to do a better job defensively and on blocking out on guys that can hurt us,” Marlin said. “But the main thing is to shoot the ball better and continue to take care of the basketball. That’ll be crucial Wednesday night.”