MOBILE, Ala. — Louisiana-Lafayette’s men’s basketball team won’t hesitate to try something different Thursday, if that’s what it takes to slow down South Alabama.
The Ragin’ Cajuns and USA locked up in what coach Bob Marlin called an old-fashioned shootout less than two weeks ago at the Cajundome, with the visiting Jaguars hitting nearly 70 percent of their second-half shots in what became a surprising 89-82 USA victory.
“They sort of beat us at our own game,” said Marlin, whose team plays the middle game of a three-game road swing at 7:05 p.m. at the Mitchell Center. “We got into a shootout and they outshot us.”
The Cajuns (11-9, 5-4 Sun Belt Conference) were no slouches from the field in that game, hitting nearly 50 percent in the first half and leading 44-35 at intermission. But those numbers weren’t enough to hold off a Jaguars team that only missed nine shots in the second half.
“You’ve got to do something different,” Marlin said. “We’ve gone back and looked at what we can do defensively. It’s up to us to try something else, because we can’t let them shoot 69 percent in a half again.”
“They’ve done a really good job of righting their ship,” UL-Lafayette director of basketball operations Michael Murphy said of the Jaguars. “They are really efficient offensively.”
The Jaguars (6-14, 4-5) have battled back from an abysmal start and have split both their past four and past eight. USA has lost two in a row, though, falling 64-53 at Appalachian State last Thursday and 72-55 on Sunday to New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) — the same team that upset a ranked Michigan team earlier this season — in a rare midseason nonleague game.
Even though USA hasn’t scored more than 66 points since beating the Cajuns, and have been held in the 50’s in their past two, Marlin said he knows the potential that USA has for a big offensive game. But the UL-Lafayette coach admitted his team had something to do with that hot shooting two weeks ago.
“The first 15 minutes we played OK,” Marlin said. “The last 25, we didn’t guard, we didn’t close out on the defensive end. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency, and that carried over to our offensive execution.”
That was the second game of a streak that has seen the Cajuns lose four of five games, following a 4-0 Sun Belt start. Even with that streak, UL-Lafayette enters Thursday’s game only 11/2 games out of first place in the standings and only one game out of second place.
Going into Thursday’s full slate of league games, the Sun Belt is the only one of the nation’s 34 conferences to have four teams within one game of first place. Surprising Georgia Southern (6-2) is one-half game in front of a three-team 6-3 logjam that includes Georgia State, Texas-Arlington and UL-Monroe.
Most league teams are only now reaching the halfway point in the 20-game conference schedule, and no team in the Sun Belt has more than 13 overall wins.
“Even in the recent struggles, junior postman Shawn Long has been a consistent two-way threat for the Cajuns. The Morgan City native had a 22-point, 22-rebound game — tied for the sixth-highest board total in school history — in the previous meeting with USA.
Since then, he’s added a 19-point, nine-rebound game against ULM, a 27-point outing in last Thursday’s 96-59 blowout of Arkansas State, and a 21-point, 16-rebound performance in Saturday’s 75-64 loss at Georgia State.
“Shawn’s been very consistent,” Murphy said. “But we’re challenging him daily to get even bigger numbers. He was on a little bit of a roller-coaster early, but what he’s done recently helps us in what we can do offensively with a go-to guy in the low post. But he thinks he can get more out of himself, and we know that he can.”