The Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team that many people expected to see earlier this season showed up Saturday in a dominant 87-54 win over Georgia State in Atlanta.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (7-8, 3-3 Sun Belt) scored 87 points against a Georgia State (11-4, 4-2) team that entered the game ranked No. 5 in the country in scoring defense (59.9 ppg). They made 11 shots from 3-point range, only turned the ball over five times and enjoyed a plus-17 rebounding margin.
They coasted to a 33-point win in an arena where the Panthers had lost only once in their past 34 games.
“I like the way we’re playing,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin, who said before his team left for its two-game road trip that he felt it was ready to break out of its early-season doldrums.
Again, senior forward Shawn Long came up huge for the Cajuns. Just two days after posting a 23-point, 17-rebound game in a win at Georgia Southern, he one-upped himself with 23 points and 18 boards.
“If he’s not (conference) player of the week this week, we can’t get one,” Marlin quipped.
But he had help this time from his sharp-shooting guards. Kasey Shepherd and Hayward Register combined to make 9-of-18 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc. The pair had 34 of the Cajuns’ 43 bench points.
It wasn’t a wire-to-wire blowout. The Cajuns made just two of their first 12 shots, allowing the Panthers to pull out to an 18-10 lead.
But the Cajuns showed early that they came to play; it was just a matter of starting to make shots. They took a 35-31 lead into halftime despite being outshot 55 percent to 35 percent.
The reason: The Cajuns were cleaning up on the offensive glass. They had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, leading to nine second-chance points. The Panthers did not snare an offensive rebound in the first half.
To start the second half, the Cajuns showed how good they can look when the shots are falling. They made 10 of their first 15 shots to start the second half, culminating in 3-pointers by Register on back-to-back possessions that pushed their lead to 22 points. The Panthers had no answer for the Cajuns’ hot shooting.
“We knew we were ready to bust out and shoot the ball, and thank goodness it happened today,” Marlin said.
Georgia State made five of its first eight field-goal attempts to start the second half but went ice cold from there, making just three of its final 13 shots. The Panthers scored just 23 points in the final 20 minutes.
After a tough start to a four-game road swing last week in Arkansas, the Cajuns this week posted a pair of convincing wins to salvage a split and now have a full head of steam heading into the softest part of their schedule.
Seven of the Cajuns’ next eight games, including their next five, will be played at home, where they are 5-0 this season. Their next three opponents — South Alabama (7-10, 2-4), Troy (6-11, 1-5) and Texas State (8-6, 2-3) — have combined for a 21-27 record.