With leading scorer Elfrid Payton struggling from the field, Shawn Long shouldered the Louisiana-Lafayette scoring load during Friday night’s Sun Belt Conference tournament quarterfinals.
And what shoulders.
Long’s mixture of scores in the post and defense near the rim propelled the No. 3 seed Ragin’ Cajuns to a 91-85 win over No. 6 Texas-Arlington at Lakefront Arena, sending them to Saturday’s semifinals against No. 2 seed Western Kentucky.
Long, who is listed at 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, challenged and redirected shots. And on offense, he scored 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting. He also had 17 rebounds.
Bryant Mbamalu scored 20 points, and Xavian Rimmer led UL-Lafayette (21-11) with 24, including a 3-pointer with 2:59 left that curtailed any momentum UTA (15-17) hoped to gain during a late rally.
Payton, a Gretna native playing in front of his hometown crowd, finished with eight points on 3-for-11 shooting. He did contribute, though, finding Rimmer after he penetrated under the rim. Rimmer was 5-for-6 on 3-pointers.
It proved to be just enough to slow UTA’s Reger Dowell, who scored 11 points in the final four minutes.
Early in the second half, UL-Lafayette went on a 17-8 run, highlighted by six points from Long. Mbamalu’s 3-pointer with 13:18 left stretched UL-Lafayette’s lead to 65-51.
Jamel Outer came off the bench to led UTA in scoring with 26 points, including a 3-pointer with 53 seconds left that trimmed UL-Lafayette’s lead to 85-78. Outer missed the accompanying free throw, but the Mavericks retained possession, and Dowell reached the free throw line with 29.4 seconds left, making both shots.
Long converted two free throws with 27.3 seconds remaining.
UL-Lafayette, which has already sealed its first 20-win season since 2002-03, is aiming to reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. The winner of the conference tournament will receive an automatic bid. UL-Lafayette has now won nine of its last 11 games.
The Ragin’ Cajuns have lost twice this season to WKU, including 75-72 on the road on March 6.