LAFAYETTE — The results haven’t been there yet for the Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team, but coach Bob Marlin said he thinks the team is right on the edge of breaking out.
“I like our group, I like the way that we played this week,” Marlin said after his team was swept on a trip to Arkansas last week. “I feel good going forward with what we have in front of us. There’s a lot of basketball to be played. We’re close. We should’ve won the game in Jonesboro, let it slip away.”
The Cajuns (5-8, 1-3 Sun Belt Conference) hope to find their mojo on the road Thursday against a Georgia Southern team (5-9, 1-3) that has struggled in similar ways this season.
“We’re close,” Marlin reiterated. “We have an opportunity to right the ship this week and get a road victory and get right back in this race.”
Despite the pair of losses last week to teams that are a combined 8-0 in SBC play this season, Marlin was encouraged by the defensive effort his team showed.
Both Little Rock and Arkansas State ripped off a strong finishing run against the Cajuns, but were limited for much of the game by the Cajuns defenders. It was a sign of progress for a Cajuns squad that, until recently, had struggled mightily on the defensive end.
The Cajuns weren’t able to cash in on the improved defense, though. They scored a season-low 57 points against a Little Rock team that entered the game leading the nation in scoring defense, then managed 69 points against Arkansas State. The Cajuns shot below 40 percent in both contests.
Still, the mounting losses have not managed to dampen the Cajuns’ confidence in their ability to turn the season around.
“We just need one spark,” point guard Jay Wright said. “We’re going to come around. Everything is negative right now, but when things get good, we’re going to get on a good streak and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette are similar beyond their nearly identical records. Both teams rank among the top three of SBC teams in scoring, and they are also ranked as the bottom two in scoring defense. They have similar marks in rebounding, free-throw percentage, shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio.
Where they differ is in personnel.
The Eagles often play with a four-guard lineup, and Marlin said they sometimes play five guards at once. They spread the floor and have attempted more 3-point shots than anyone in the league.
Three-point shooting defense, the bane of the Cajuns existence earlier this season, has been improved in the past five games. Since allowing UCLA to sink 9-of-17 from deep, the Cajuns have limited opponents to a 27.5 percent (22-of-80) mark from the 3-point line.
“It’s a good thing we’ve defended the 3 well recently, because we’ve got to do it again on this trip,” Marlin said. “It’ll be very important to us.”
The Eagles’ leading scorer, Tookie Brown, is arguably the team’s best shooter from 3-point range. He’s made 38.7 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, and is averaging 17.1 points per game in his first season with Georgia Southern.
Things certainly haven’t gone according to script for the Cajuns this season. The preseason SBC favorites are still searching for their first road win this season. But Marlin knows from experience there’s still time to turn things around.
But that time is running out.
“It’s all about March,” Marlin said. “We’ve got time to correct this. Last year we were 4-0 at this time, we’d played two home games and two road games, the same as Little Rock and those other teams that are 4-0. We finished in fourth place. One year we were 1-5 in the league and wound up finishing second.
“There’s still time out there, but we need to have a sense of urgency. Each game is important and we need to start it on Thursday.”