Two teams will be looking to forget their last game and remember what they did right in their season openers when Louisiana-Lafayette plays the back half of a rugged two-game road stretch against Alabama’s Crimson Tide.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (1-1) watched Miami put on a shooting exhibition Monday night as the returning NIT finalist Hurricanes roared to a 93-77 victory. About 18 hours later, Alabama (1-1) was schooled by returning Elite Eight power Dayton to the tune of 80-48 as part of ESPN’s Tipoff Marathon.
Both teams had looked much better in their home openers, albeit against lesser competition. The Cajuns humbled Louisiana College 108-68 and the Tide topped Kennesaw State 77-64 in two Friday games, so both are still searching to find themselves heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. contest at Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum.
The game marks the second home outing for the Tide under new coach and former Southern and NBA standout Avery Johnson, an inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame last summer only months after he accepted the Tide position.
“He’s trying to discover a rotation and learn more about his team, which is what all of us are doing at this time of year,” said Cajun coach Bob Marlin. “I know they’ll be anxious to get back. They played a very good basketball team in Dayton and got beat badly, so we’ll get their best shot.”
The game will air online on SEC Network Plus and ESPN3.
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for much of the Cajuns staff. Marlin was an assistant under former Crimson Tide coach David Hoobs from 1995-98, UL-Lafayette assistant Neil Hardin was a Tide graduate assistant in those years and Cajun director of basketball operations Mike Murphy was an administrative assistant from 1995-97 and also assisted with Alabama’s women’s team from 1998-2002.
In fact, Marlin wore a black-and-white houndstooth jacket at his Wednesday presser, in honor of the legendary former ‘Bama football coach “Bear” Bryant.
“They’ve got a home football game the next day so they’ll be excited,” Marlin said. “We may have had 2,000 people there at Miami. Friday, they (Alabama) had 14,900 in a building that seats 15,000. We’re all looking forward to it.”
Marlin is also looking forward to another strong performance from senior postman Shawn Long, and more performances from the rest of his veteran crew. Long put up 21 points and had 13 rebounds against Miami, adding to his big national lead in career double-doubles (52, 12 more than the runner-up).
Even though four other Cajuns scored in double figures, no other UL-Lafayette player had more than five rebounds and the Cajuns only turned Miami over 10 times. It didn’t help that the Hurricanes hit six three-pointers in each half and were 12-of-23 outside the arc along with shooting 58.4 percent as a team.
“We didn’t rebound the ball in the first half,” Marlin said after his team trailed by 16 at halftime, “but with those guys there weren’t many rebounds to get. They really shot it well. Their first game, they were one of 12 on threes in the first half. We challenged our guys at halftime and we were more comfortable with our surroundings in the second half.
Alabama hopes the home floor will raise its comfort level, after the Tide starters were outscored 54-19 by the host Flyers Tuesday afternoon. Alabama shot under 30 percent as a team.
“Their defense deserves a lot of credit for that,” Johnson said. “We had tough shots every trip down the court. We struggled with unforced errors and they capitalized off those. Dayton’s a veteran, well-oiled machine and we ran into the buzzsaw.”
Sophomore guard Riley Norris led the Tide with nine points in that game, but Marlin said it’s Alabama’s front line that concerns him most, especially 6-foot-10 Jimmie Taylor and 6-foot-8 former All-SEC pick Shannon Hale. The two combined for only five points at Dayton.
“Taylor concerns us, he’s a big guy and a shot blocker,” he said. “Shawn will go up against another good player inside. Hale has been through some injuries but he’s very steady, and their point guard (freshman Dazon Ingram) is a matchup problem at 6-5.”