LAFAYETTE — Another game, another double-digit win, and another scoring hero for UL-Lafayette’s basketball team.
This time, it was junior JaKeenan Gant who kept the Ragin’ Cajuns going in the first half, and his teammates stepped in to help in the second half as the Cajuns won their ninth straight Sun Belt Conference game 81-69 over Troy.
UL-Lafayette continued an impressive run of nine straight victories by double-digit margins in league play while also winning its school-record 15th straight Sun Belt game and its 14th straight Cajundome victory dating to last season.
This one was among the toughest in that stretch, as the Trojans led by as many as eight points in the first six minutes and had a lead for most of the first half.
Had it not been for Gant, the Cajuns (19-3, 9-0) would have been farther behind. The junior got 19 of his game-high 24 points in the first half.
In addition, he banked in a 25-footer from the top of the key at the halftime horn — his third 3-pointer of the half after Troy’s Javan Johnson missed a free throw with 7 seconds left.
“That was a big shot,” said Gant, who was in his fourth game back after an injured hand sidelined him for more than a week. “I didn’t call bank, but it went in. I had a couple of games that I was over-thinking things, and I had to just play with confidence and not think about my hand and play through it.”
That shot provided UL-Lafayette with its largest first-half lead, 40-36.
“He made two others that were big,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said of Gant, whose 24 points were a career high. “His first half really gave us a lift that we needed.”
The Trojans (9-13, 3-6) refused to go away, and Johnson’s inside basket with 15:23 left tied the score at 46. But Frank Bartley nailed the first of his three 3-pointers in the second half 30 seconds later, and the Cajuns never trailed again.
“(Troy) made some tough shots,” Marlin said. “We got off to a good start in the second half and I felt like we were about to bust it out, but we missed some easy shots.”
The win kept the Cajuns two games clear of the field at the halfway point of the Sun Belt race, and extended the second-best season start in school history.
Gant had only one point at halftime of Thursday’s 76-57 win over South Alabama, but went for 15 points and eight rebounds in the second half. He picked up where he left off Saturday, hitting 7 of 8 shots from the field and all three 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes, providing almost half of UL-Lafayette’s first-half output.
Johnathan Stove came off the bench to score 14 of his 18 points in the second half, and Frank Bartley had 11 of his 18 after halftime. Bartley also had five assists, and Marlin said Bartley’s greater contribution was on the defensive end. He drew the assignment of guarding Troy’s leading scorer, Wesley Person, and held the senior guard to 10 points and only eight shots.
“Frank was rushing things offensively. Even against the zone he was a little too quick,” Marlin said. “But he’s been efficient all year and his defense has been outstanding. He had Person tonight and (USA leading scorer Rodrick) Sikes on Thursday. I’m really proud of what he’s done defensively.”
Bryce Washington added 11 points and nine rebounds, leading UL-Lafayette to a 33-28 rebound advantage and moving within 15 rebounds of becoming the third Cajuns player with 1,000 career rebounds. The senior is one of four players nationally to average a double-double over the past two seasons and is the fourth-leading active rebounder in the nation.
Jordon Varnado had 18 points and B.J. Miller 17 to lead four double-figure scorers for the Trojans, who are the last team to beat the Cajuns in Sun Belt regular-season play after winning in Troy last February.
The Trojans, last year's Sun Belt tournament champions, led by four on Johnson’s driving layup with 3:02 left in the first half. However, a putback by Washington and a three-point play by Bartley over the next 90 seconds gave UL-Lafayette the lead and Gant’s trey at the horn provided the four-point advantage.
It was still a five-point game halfway through the second half, but Stove scored six points and Bartley hit a 3 in a 9-0 Cajun run that stretched the advantage to 73-59 with 5:33 left.