LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette may still be the highest scoring team in the Sun Belt Conference, but after two straight losses, the Cajuns are looking for some immediate offensive answers.
The Cajuns were held 12 points under their scoring average for a second straight game as UL-Lafayette again experienced offensive problems in a 79-70 loss to Western Kentucky of Saturday at the Cajundome.
UL-Lafayette entered the game averaging a league-best 82 points. The Cajuns’ offensive production was similar to what they exhibited in Thursday’s 77-70 home loss to league-leading Georgia State.
UL-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said there is no intricate formula that he knows of to solve the Cajuns’ scoring difficulties.
“We’ve just got to make more shots and free throws,” he said.
The Cajuns shot 38.3 percent from the field and made 19 of 26 free throws. From 3-point range, the Cajuns shot 33 percent (5-of-15).
The loss dropped the Cajuns to 12-8 overall and 3-4 in the Sun Belt. WKU improved to 13-7 and 5-2. The win gave the Hilltoppers a 4-0 road start in conference play for the first time since 1969-70.
“We had a lead in the first half and didn’t hold that up,” Marlin said. “We gave them some momentum early in the second half when we gave them a couple of baskets. I thought after that we were able to stem the momentum a bit when we applied some defensive pressure, and the crowd got into it and gave us a huge boost and we were able to get one basket within the lead.”
Western Kentucky coach Ray Harper said the game produced a series of “ebbs and flows” in which the Cajuns and Hilltoppers exchanged large leads.
In the first half, UL-Lafayette established three 10 point-leads midway through the period. The last, 31-21, came with 4:18 before halftime when JJ Davenport put back a missed shot.
After that, UL-Lafayette scored only one more point — when guard Elfrid Payton sank the front end of a one-and-one.
The Cajuns’ scoring drought let WKU initiate a 16-1 run in the last 3 minutes, 42 seconds as forward George Fant and guard Trency Jackson took control.
Fant scored four points, while Jackson’s five during that period included a 3-pointer with 31.9 seconds remaining that gave the Hilltoppers a 37-32 halftime lead.
Early in the second half, WKU stretched its advantage to as many as 16 twice as the Cajuns scored only one field goal in the first 6:11.
Payton said the Hilltoppers were taking advantage of the UL-Lafayette defense.
“(WKU was) able to force some turnovers in our press that gave them some easy shot opportunities, and they just knocked some 3s down,” Payton said.
Payton said the Cajuns need to fare better in halfcourt situations.
“Conference games are usually grind-it-out type of games, and it’s more in the halfcourt and we just have to execute in the halfcourt,” Payton said.
A 3-pointer by WKU guard Chris Harrison-Docks gave WKU a 57-41 lead, but the Cajuns found their scoring touch again shortly afterward.
UL-Lafayette began a 12-0 run in the next three minutes when Shawn Long scored on a putback and Kevin Brown put in a shot off a turnover and had a 3-pointer on his next attempt.
Bryant Mbamalu followed Brown’s 3 with another as the Cajuns cut the lead to 57-51 with 11:01 left.
A pair of Brown free throws cut the lead to 57-53, but the Hilltoppers came back with seven straight points that included five by Fant. That gave WKU a 68-59 lead with 4:20 to go.
UL-Lafayette cut that advantage to five twice during the final 2:23.
“We don’t stay in front of the ball down the stretch, and we allow them to lay the ball in,” Marlin said. “We got beat repeatedly off the dribble and were scrambling. Because of that, they were able to score some easy baskets.”
Harper said the teams played in a contested manner.
“(UL-Lafayette is) an awfully good team,” he said. “I thought we did a good job on Payton by making him take the tough shots.”
Fant scored a game-high 25 points and was 10-of-14 from the field. Harrison-Docks added 18, while Jackson scored 17.
Payton scored 16 points, but he shot less than 50 percent from the field. Long and Mbamalu each added 13