Bob Marlin may have understated things a little when he called Tuesday’s 75-71 win at Louisiana Tech a “good win on the road” for his Ragin’ Cajuns basketball team.
After all, the Bulldogs had gone into Tuesday’s game with a 62-3 record in non-conference home games dating back to 2008, and two of Tech's four non-conference losses since then have come at the hands of the Cajuns.
Marlin might have wanted to keep his team from getting too pumped after its 14th straight win over in-state opponents, knowing that another test awaits Saturday night. The Cajuns (8-2), on a five-game win streak since a Nov. 21 loss to Wyoming in the Cayman Islands Classic, host UNO (2-6) in a 7 p.m. contest at the Cajundome in the fifth of six straight games against in-state foes.
Marlin said the visiting Privateers are much better than their 0-6 road record might indicate.
“Look at the teams they’ve played,” Marlin said. “They have been very competitive against some very good teams.”
UNO, coming off a Southland Conference tournament title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament last March, fell 79-66 at SMU on Wednesday. The Privateers’ other losses have come to St. John’s, Oakland, Memphis, South Alabama and Houston. Those six teams sport a combined 42-18 record entering the weekend.
The Cajuns rolled past McNeese, Nicholls and Loyola-New Orleans and then built as much as an 18-point first-half lead Tuesday in Ruston. UL-Lafayette still led by double digits when Cedric Russell hit a 3-pointer with 6:46 left for a 67-55 margin.
The Bulldogs cut the gap to two points twice in the final three minutes, but JaKeenan Gant’s jump hook with 19 seconds left provided the final four-point margin. Gant finished with 22 points to lead four Cajuns in double figures.
“We were very good defensively early, and that helped us build a nice lead,” Marlin said. “A couple of things fell wrong right at the end of the half that could have given us a bigger lead at halftime, and that kind of set a tone for us for the second half.
“We didn’t guard the way we wanted in the second half and we had a couple of breaks go against us, but one break went our way late in the game, and we got a big basket from JaKeenan at the end.”
UL-Lafayette took a 76-71 win at UNO’s Lakefront Arena last December — ironically on the same day the Cajun football team played across town in the New Orleans Bowl — and has won the school's past four meetings. In all, UL-Lafayette has won 27 straight regular-season non-conference home games dating back to 2012.
This year’s home success has been built on offense. The Cajuns average 105.4 points per game in five Cajundome appearances (including an exhibition game). Overall, UL-Lafayette is the only team in the country ranked in the top 20 in scoring (12th, 89.4), assists (sixth, 194), steals (17th, 9.5) and offensive rebounds (20th, 13.6).
“We’ve done what we needed to do on offense most of the year,” Marlin said. “We’ve shot it well and we’ve shared the ball. We still have to play better defensively and we’ve got to rebound better, but if we keep playing this well in our last three non-conference games and take this into conference, we have a chance to have an excellent year.”