Bob Marlin won his 150th game as Louisiana-Lafayette’s basketball coach Thursday night, and that was lost in the shuffle amid all the other landmarks and successes the Ragin’ Cajuns have had this year.
Thursday’s tougher-than-expected 73-63 home win over Texas State also put the Cajuns mentor within two wins of the 500-mark as a college head coach, but he’d rather celebrate this group’s accomplishments and add a few more in the final weeks of the season.
“It’s been special,” Marlin said after UL-Lafayette improved to 22-4 overall and 12-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. “These guys want to have a great team and go out as one of the best teams we’ve had in school history. That’s their goal, and they’ve talked a lot about that.”
The Cajuns have already put themselves in some rarefied air as far as successful seasons go, and they will look for more heights at 7 p.m. Saturday when they host preseason Sun Belt favorite Texas-Arlington (16-11, 7-7) at the Cajundome.
In more than a century of basketball at the school, only 10 teams have won 22 games in a season, and no team has reached that mark by mid-February. In addition, the only Cajuns teams to approach the winning percentage of this year’s squad — the 84.6 mark ranks 10th nationally — are the three straight years in the early 1970’s that still draw homage as the “glory years” in program history.
UL-Lafayette went 25-4 in both 1970-71 and 1971-72 and 24-5 in 1972-73, and so far, this year’s Cajuns team is the only one that comes close to matching those squads record-wise.
The Cajuns have won 15 straight home games dating to last season, the seventh-longest streak in the country, and they’re one of only two schools with eight true road wins and a perfect home record this year (Montana is the other). They’ve also gone 18-1 in their past 19 Sun Belt regular-season games.
“We’re on pace to do some things,” said senior forward Bryce Washington, who had his second straight double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds Thursday. “Coach trusts us a lot, and to have that kind of trust that he has in us, it relaxes us. It’s pressure, but it’s not really pressure.”
The Cajuns got a little more pressure than expected Thursday from Texas State’s Bobcats, who cut a 16-point Cajuns lead to five with 4:21 left. But after TSU’s Shelby Adams nailed a 3-pointer to make it 60-55, Johnathan Stove hit two free throws and JaKeenan Gant and Washington got back-to-back easy inside baskets on Marcus Stroman’s 10th and 11th assists of the game.
“We knew what type of game it was going to be,” said Stove, who followed his career-high 28-point effort at Georgia Southern on Saturday with 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting. “They were going to try to slow us down, especially after us scoring so many points at their house. We knew they were going to force the tempo and play at their pace, and that made it even closer.”
UL-Lafayette rolled late in an 80-55 win at San Marcos in mid-January. Texas State’s patient squad, one that ranks eighth nationally in fewest points allowed (63.1), has played 14 conference games, and 12 of them have been decided by six or fewer points. The two that haven’t are the Cajuns’ wins by a combined 35 points.
“A 10-point win over them is big,” Marlin said. “They’re very good defensively, and to get 73 on that group while shooting 3-of-14 on three-pointers is pretty impressive. We had our worst three-point shooting game of the year and we were still able to hang on by doing an excellent job at the line.”
The Cajuns were 18-of-19 from the line, missing a 50-year-old school record when Stroman missed the back end of a one-and-one with 35 seconds left. But the junior point guard more than made up for that the rest of the night, Marlin said.
“He was loose with the ball early and loose defensively, and we had a couple of bad turnovers,” Marlin said. “But our offense is so much better when he’s on the floor. We were trying to get him some rest to keep him fresh.”
Stroman has 34 assists in the Cajuns’ last three games, and his 6.6 average is 12th nationally. He’s at a league-leading 8.1 per game in Sun Belt games heading into a matchup of talented point guards Saturday. UTA’s Erick Neal, a 5-foot-10 senior and returning All-Sun Belt performer, is ninth nationally in assists (7.0) but exploded for 35 points Thursday in the Mavericks’ 84-71 loss to rejuvenated UL-Monroe.
UL-Lafayette trailed by 14 in the first half at UTA in mid-January before holding the Mavs to 21 second-half points and 25.0 shooting after halftime in a 77-65 win.