The images of the shot play over and over, in every promotional spot for UL-Lafayette basketball and in the video that runs amid the light show and pyrotechnics before each Ragin’ Cajuns home game.
Johnathan Stove’s three dribbles to a spot at the mid-court line, between the center circle and the sideline, then launches a buzzer-beating heave.
It was the memorable moment of UL-Lafayette’s 2016-17 season. That shot, and the resulting 85-84 win at UL-Monroe last February, became the second of a seven-game winning streak that continued until the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.
“As soon as it left Stove’s hand at half-court, I told Frank (Bartley), man, it’s good,” said center Bryce Washington. “And it went right in. We played right up until the horn, and if you do that you never know what’s going to happen.”
The Cajuns (14-3, 4-0 Sun Belt) take another hot streak this season into Saturday’s 7 p.m. home contest against the Warhawks. Including that stunning victory, the Cajuns have won 21 of their past 25 games.
The last meeting with ULM was the most unlikely. UL-Lafayette trailed by nine points with 3:01 left at ULM’s Fant-Ewing Coliseum and was still down 84-79 with 12 seconds left after Jordan Harris’ layup gave ULM a five-point lead. Kadavion Evans made it 84-82 with 3.8 seconds left with a three-point play when he tipped in a missed 3-pointer and was fouled.
ULM’s Rodrick Taylor was fouled before the inbounds pass and missed two free throws, and Jerekius Davis rebounded and found Stove on an outlet pass to set up the game-winner.
“The play was supposed to go to Jay Wright,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin of the since-graduated point guard, “but there wasn’t a passing lane and it wound up in Johnathan’s hands.”
Wright had a career-high 28 points in that game and was the Cajuns’ most effective long-range shooter in the final half of last season. At the time of his game-winner, Stove was only 8 of 33 on 3-point shots for the season.
ULM (7-8, 1-3) had five players score in double figures in that loss. Three return and are the three leading scorers for this year's Warhawks. Travis Munnings leads ULM in scoring (15.5 points per game) and rebounding (6.8), while Sam McDaniel is at 15.4 points per game. The pair combines to shoot 45 percent outside the arc.
“They’re better than that record,” Marlin said. “They opened conference play at Arkansas State and dominated most of that game and ended up losing (72-61).”
The Cajuns look to continue several streaks in front of a big group of basketball alumni for Reunion Weekend, which is expected to draw more than 100 former Cajuns players for day-long activities Saturday. A couple of those alumni played on the historic 1972-73 team that was ranked as high as fourth nationally and was 17-1 in its first 18 games.
A win Saturday will give this year’s Cajuns squad the best opening 18-game record since then and would also give UL-Lafayette a school-record 11 straight Sun Belt wins dating to last season. The Cajuns had an 11-game league win streak in Marlin’s first season in 2010-11.
UL-Lafayette also has won 16 straight games against Louisiana teams entering Saturday’s game including the past three over ULM, and a Saturday win would make the Cajuns 5-0 in league play for the first time since 1999-2000.
“We’re a better team than we were at that stage last year,” Marlin said of last year’s win over ULM. “We’ve got more depth, and we’ve got more versatility. We had struggled some before that game, but we’ve played really consistent in almost every game this year.”
Washington (10.6, 10.4) is averaging a double-double for the second straight year and is one of the Cajuns' four double-figure scorers, with Bartley (16.3), JaKeenan Gant (15.9) and Stove (10.3) among eight players averaging seven or more points per game.
Gant has not played in the past two games with a hand injury and is still questionable for Saturday, but the Cajuns’ depth is such that no UL-Lafayette player is in the Sun Belt’s top 20 in minutes played. No player is averaging more than 29 minutes per game, and Washington said other than Gant's absence the Cajuns are as close to full strength as at any time this year.
“Everybody’s finally healthy and the chemistry is there,” he said. “I think it’s impossible to double-team anybody on our team because we’re good at a lot of places. We may have one or two guys that have a bad night, and like coach says, it’s next man up.”
WOMEN GO FOR FOUR: UL-Lafayette’s women’s squad puts a three-game win streak on the line Saturday when the Ragin’ Cajuns host UL-Monroe in a 4 p.m. CST-televised contest at the Cajundome.
The Cajuns (8-8, 3-1) are in a four-way tie for second place in the Sun Belt after sweeping the first two games of their three-game homestand, beating Appalachian State 61-45 and holding on for a 59-55 win over Coastal Carolina. UL-Lafayette shot less than 41 percent in both games but forced a combined 48 turnovers.
Baton Rouge freshman Skyler Goodwin had 17 points including a clutch 3-pointer in the win over Coastal that gave UL-Lafayette its first three-game win streak since last year’s Sun Belt Tournament. That win also gave coach Garry Brodhead his 100th career victory.
ULM (4-11, 1-3) has lost the past six meetings between the teams and split its past two games with a home win over Coastal Carolina and a loss to Appalachian State last weekend.