LAFAYETTE – Last week, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said his Cajuns team was not the same team that lost in Monroe earlier this season.
His team proved that Tuesday night in a gritty, come-from-behind 72-65 overtime win against the Warhawks (10-12, 6-5 Sun Belt Conference). Make it seven wins in a row for the Cajuns (12-8, 8-3) and make it 100 career victories for Marlin.
“It’s nice that this was a memorable game, that it’s against Monroe in overtime, and it’s one we needed to win for a lot of reasons, … because (ULM) is going to continue to play well and beat some people,” Marlin said.
It had been more than two calendar years since Shawn Long had been on the winning side of the rivalry against ULM, and he played like he wanted that streak to end Tuesday.
“Those are the games you live for,” Long said.
Long scored a season-high 28 points and hauled in 17 rebounds in 42 minutes of yeoman’s work. Six of those points and seven of those rebounds came in the extra period.
He went 4-for-4 from the free throw line in overtime, and the other two points came on a monstrous dunk over Warhawks star Majok Deng, after which he let out a primal yell under the basket.
“For Shawn to come back and reach another gear, that’s impressive,” Marlin said. “A couple of the dunks he had tonight … were Sportscenter type.”
The Cajuns came out ice cold to open the second half, knocking down just two of their first eight second-half shot attempts. It wasn’t their first time struggling from the field for a stretch of Tuesday’s game, but for the first time ULM made them pay for it.
The Warhawks ripped off a 12-2 run, capped by a Jamaal Samuel 3-pointer — his fifth of the game — from the left corner to give them a 50-39 lead with 11:35 to go in the game. The 11-point margin was the largest of the game for either team.
But the Cajuns had a big answer ready. Over the next seven minutes, they roared back in front of ULM with a 21-4 run.
It started with five quick points from sophomore Johnathan Stove, who didn’t have a great shooting night, but provided a high-energy performance on defense and on the offensive glass, where he reeled in six offensive rebounds.
It ended with Hayward Register draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key, then coming up with a steal and a coast-to-coast layup on the ensuing possession to put the Cajuns ahead 60-54 with 4:43 remaining.
The Cajuns felt like they were in control, but couldn’t hold off a ULM rally in the closing minutes. The Warhawks tied it up in the final minute, and Kasey Shepherd’s good look at a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to win clanged off the front iron.
The Cajuns enjoyed an excellent shooting stretch in the middle of the first half, but they struggled from the floor in the opening and closing minutes of the opening period.
They made just one of their first seven shot attempts despite having a number of good looks at the basket, allowing ULM to jump out to an 11-4 lead.
That’s when Long started to take over. He converted a three-point play when he was fouled on a layup, then knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key and a long, off-balance 2-point jumper from nearly the same spot on the next possession.
Another Long layup gave the Cajuns a 25-21 lead, their largest lead of the first half, with 6:16 to go, but that’s when they started to go cold again. The Cajuns went more than four minutes before they made another field goal, when Long finally ended the stretch with a driving layup with 1:55 to go in the half.
But the Cajuns did a nice job defensively for the majority of the first half, and ULM was never able to truly capitalize on the Cajuns shooting struggles. ULM took a one-point lead to the locker room at halftime.
The Cajuns will be back at it early Wednesday morning to get a practice in before making their longest road trip in conference play for a Thursday game against Appalachian State.