The nine-game win streak and a run of 14 straight victories in the Cajundome are both gone. In all likelihood, so are the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s chances at the Sun Belt Conference’s men’s basketball regular-season title.
Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin knows it’s going to be tough for his squad to catch Little Rock, which improved to 12-2 in Sun Belt play with Saturday’s 68-64 win. It was the Trojans’ second over the Cajuns this season, giving them a tiebreaker advantage for league tournament seeding even if UL-Lafayette (14-9, 10-4) can make up two games in the final six regular-season outings.
“We know we have to turn around and go play,” Marlin said. “We felt bad about losing at home. ... We wanted to go undefeated at home. That was one of our goals we set back in August.
“Now we have to go and take care of business, control what we can control. We know if we win out, we’re second, and Little Rock could get a bump along the way. There’s still some time, we just need to take care of business and try to win.”
Those efforts will be on the road for the next two weeks as the Cajuns play four straight road games, beginning at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at Texas-Arlington. The Mavs (17-7, 8-5) are fourth in the league standings, one-half game behind third-place UL-Monroe (13-12, 9-5), which handed Little Rock its second league loss Thursday.
Even with that loss, the Trojans are tied for the nation’s best record at 22-3. And despite giving up 86 and 64 points on their Louisiana swing, Little Rock leads the nation in allowing 58.6 points per game.
“They may not lose again,” Marlin said. “They’re a tough team to play from behind because they run the clock down and they do a really good job of defending. It’s disappointing, because we had a chance to get to first place, but we’re in second, and we control our own destiny.”
Senior forward Shawn Long got his 70th career double-double in 124 games, the national leader, but was held to eight field-goal attempts in his 12-point, 12-rebound game Saturday. Long had only two points and two shots in the second half against Little Rock’s double-team and triple-team defense.
“Teams have done a good job of defending him, and Little Rock did as good a job as anybody defensively not letting him get touches,” Marlin said. “He got frustrated. We blew a couple of defensive coverages early that weren’t his fault, and then he got frustrated offensively.”
Long also had only two second-half points Thursday in a 17-point, 15-rebound effort when the Cajuns beat Arkansas State 83-73. The 6-foot-11 postman had 10 rebounds in the second half.
Long, with 2,135 points and 1,333 rebounds, is one of 19 players in NCAA Division I history to record 2,100 points and 1,300 rebounds.
UL-Lafayette has a minimum of seven games remaining (six regular-season games and at least one in the Sun Belt tournament). If Long continues his current 18.9 scoring and 12.9 rebounding marks through those games, he would finish with 2,267 career points and 1,423 rebounds, becoming one of seven Division I players to go over 2,200 points and 1,400 rebounds. Only two players have done that since 1968: Ralph Sampson of Virginia (2,225 and 1,511) and Lionel Simmons of LaSalle (3,217 and 1,429).
Long is third nationally in rebounding behind Egidijus Mockevicius of Evansville (13.9) and Joel Bolomboy of Weber State (13.5).
Since Elijah McGuire added his basketball-roster spot to his Cajuns football résumé, he has seen action in seven games and is averaging 1.4 points. But Saturday’s Little Rock game marked the first time he was on the floor in the final minute of a nail-biter, and he responded by helping force a Jay Wright steal and then taking a pass from Wright for a layup with 0:27 left that brought UL-Lafayette within 65-64.
Marlin said McGuire was inserted after a timeout with 33 seconds left, with his defense in mind.
“We have confidence in Eli in those situations,” he said. “We know he’s quick, explosive, low to the ground. We’d worked on some special situations, and he’s in on one when you want to deny the ball when it comes inbounds. It’s no different in an onside kick in football where you have a hands team.”
UT-Arlington had lost four games as of two weeks ago, one game after losing standout swingman Kevin Hervey (18.1 points, 9.8 rebounds) for the season with a torn ACL. One of those losses was a 90-75 setback in the Cajundome during UL-Lafayette’s nine-game win streak.
Since that losing streak, though, UTA has won three in a row and done it in impressive fashion, winning the three by an average of 22 points with two of those on the road. The Mavs won at Georgia State 90-69, at Texas State 65-53 and at home over Appalachian State 91-60 Saturday in their most-recent game.
“Hervey was a guy that they could count on to play through it offensively, a guy you counted on to score and rebound,” Marlin said. “Yet their team’s continuing to rebound, they’re ahead of us nationally in rebounding, and they’re still just as tough defensively. Like Little Rock, their team plays aggressively.”