LAFAYETTE — Bob Marlin didn’t take off his Sam Houston State ring until last March, when his Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team qualified for the NCAA tournament with a pulsating run through the Sun Belt conference tournament.
Now he’ll head back to familiar ground in Huntsville, Texas, as his Ragin’ Cajuns squad takes on SHSU’s Bearkats in the second round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
“It was 12 years there, and we won a lot of basketball games,” said Marlin, the winningest coach in SHSU history with a 225-131 mark that included the first two NCAA trips in school history. “We had some great victories in that gym. It’ll be a little bit different sitting on that other bench.”
Marlin was still displaying the jewelry from his last trip with SHSU to the NCAA tournament during UL-Lafayette’s stretch run to the Sun Belt tournament title, using it for motivation for his team.
“It’s ironic how we get to play Coach’s old team,” said freshman forward Bryce Washington, who was the catalyst in the Cajuns’ 83-68 win at Incarnate Word on Wednesday in the CIT first round. “Going there, I think it’s a big deal for him, and it is for us, too.”
Marlin spotted that SHSU ring recently — when he saw a picture of the net-cutting ceremony after last year’s 82-81 overtime win over top-seeded Georgia State in the final. It’s an example of the connection he’ll still have when the Cajuns (21-13) meet the Bearkats (26-8) at 2 p.m. Saturday.
SHSU coach Jason Hooten was on Marlin’s staff for six years before taking over the program when Marlin came to Lafayette in 2010. Hooten’s teams have won 50 games in the past two years, including a Division I school record 26 this year.
“It’s not something you look forward to doing,” Hooten said of facing his former boss. “Obviously, Coach Marlin has meant a lot to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Bob. ... I remember Bob bringing my wife and me to Huntsville in 2004 and telling us that day that the opportunity to be a head coach would come.”
Marlin didn’t know it at the time, but he had a chance to scout SHSU earlier this year.
“Every time they come through here to play Southeastern or Nicholls State (in Southland Conference play) or LSU, they stop and practice here,” Marlin said. “They do that every year, and we went and watched them practice and talked to their guys.”
Sam Houston knocked off UNC-Wilmington 87-71 on Wednesday to move to the second round and is in the second round of the CIT for the second straight year.
“(Hooten) has a really good basketball team,” Marlin said. “They’ve got more wins than anyone in the tournament, and they’re the most experienced team in the tournament with four seniors.”
In contrast, the Cajuns are slated to start junior center Shawn Long, two sophomores and two freshmen on Saturday. It was one of those freshmen, Washington, who chose the CIT first round for a career-high 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting. Buoyed by that, UL-Lafayette shot 59.3 percent and outscored UIW 49-29 in the second half to take as much as a 22-point lead.
“We came out slow in the beginning and we addressed that at halftime,” Washington said. “(UIW) had a small power forward, really a shooting guard, and I kind of had an advantage inside the lane. I got some great passes from Shawn and Jay (Wright) and (Kasey) Shepherd, and I was able to finish.”
“We had an advantage at that position,” Marlin said. “Bryce got off to a quick start, and we did a good job of sharing the ball and made some really good passes. He got open and we made the extra pass. That’s something that may be available again this game because they aren’t really big.”