University of Louisiana at Lafayette basketball coach Bob Marlin is hoping his team’s last outing is an indication of its first-month improvement.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (2-3) are coming off a runaway 76-52 win over Oral Roberts in the final game of the MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas one week ago, a victory that snapped a three-game road loss streak.
UL-Lafayette tests that improvement Wednesday when the Cajuns return home for the first time since Nov. 14, hosting Jackson State (1-5) at p.m. at the Cajundome. It will be the first of a busy stretch of six games in a two-week span for a UL-Lafayette team that had close losses at Tulsa and to Milwaukee in the first and third games in the wide-ranging MGM meet.
Those struggles seemed to vanish against Oral Roberts when the Cajuns shot 51.8 percent from the floor and held Oral Roberts, which had beaten Tulsa two weeks earlier, to a 26.8 shooting mark. UL-Lafayette outscored Oral Roberts 55-15 off the bench and had double-figure margins in each half.
“I think that’s fair to say,” Marlin said Tuesday when asked if his team would be 4-1 or better had it played all year as it did last Tuesday. “We did a lot of good things. We played really good defense a lot of the game, and we attacked their pressure and were able to get some easy baskets.”
The Cajuns did all that without Shawn Long, who missed the past two games with injuries. Long, who entered the year leading the nation in career double-doubles (36) and still ranks second despite not getting to that mark this year, returned to practice Sunday and is expected to play against the Tigers on Wednesday.
“The rest did him good,” Marlin said. “The bone bruise and tendinitis has bothered his mobility. ... His lateral movement and explosiveness have not been very good, but he’s starting to get some of that back.”
In his place, UL-Lafayette started a heavyweight lineup of J. J. Davenport (6-foot-6, 355 pounds) and St. Augustine freshman Bryce Washington (6-6, 255) down low in its past two games. The biggest boosts came off the bench against Oral Roberts , though, as Kasey Shepherd and 22 points, Devonta Walker 13, and Johnathan Stove 10 in that win.
Shepherd filled the stats line with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals while hitting 7-of-8 shots and 4-of-5 on 3-pointers. His two 3-pointers late in the half helped build a 36-25 halftime lead, while Walker had all of his 13 in the second half.
“We talked to Kasey about the possibility of him coming off the bench, and he said it was something he wouldn’t mind doing,” Marlin said. “From an offensive standpoint, he can be very effective doing that.”
The Cajuns will be out for some revenge against Jackson State, which has lost three in a row and fell to Hofstra 86-56 in its Friday home opener. The Tigers pulled off a 73-70 upset win last year in Jackson, Mississippi, on Julysses Nobles’ 3-pointer with 1.6 econds left.
“They’re different this year,” Marlin said of the Tigers. “They lost their two leading scorers, but (Javares) Brent (11.3) can rally shoot the ball. We’ll have to guard him when he gets off the bus. He has the green light, and he’ll let it go.”
Baton Rouge product and Oklahoma State transfer Brian Williams leads the Cajuns in scoring (12.2) and rebounding (6.2) while Walker is the other double-digit scorer (10.0).
“Brian came from a system that’s different,” Marlin said. “He’s had to learn on the fly, and he came in a little passive in the summer in wanting to fit in. Now he’s playing much more aggressive, he played really well against Oral Roberts. He’s starting to do the things that we thought he could do.”