LAFAYETTE — It’s been a common practice for Louisiana-Lafayette’s opponents to collapse their defense around Shawn Long this season — but as evidenced by a play late in the second half against Troy last week, the double-team has turned into an effective play for the Cajuns.
With about four minutes to go against Troy, an entry pass found Long down near the baseline — and as soon as he caught it, three Troy defenders triangulated on his position. One of those defenders, Jordan Varnado, was previously matched up on Bryce Washington at the elbow on the opposite side of the paint.
As soon as Varnado took his first step toward Long, Washington made his way unimpeded toward the basket. Long spun away from one defender and whipped a no-look pass to a wide-open Washington, who laid it off the glass to extend the Cajuns’ lead to 17 points.
“I saw the triple-team coming,” Long said. “I figured I’d occupy them by taking a couple dribbles up the floor, and I saw Bryce from the corner of my eye ... I just gunned it in there.”
This has been a bit of a theme lately for Washington and Long, who complement each other well in the post.
By virtue of his immense talent and high statistical production, opponents have frequently sent two and sometimes three defenders to guard Long when the ball reaches his hands in the post.
But Long is an accomplished passer, and Washington understands how to occupy the space created by the double-teams on Long. The two have been working together in a beautiful concert in recent weeks.
Long has 11 assists since the Cajuns started Sun Belt Conference play in earnest against Appalachian State on Jan. 2, and Washington has received seven of those passes. The no-look pass he caught from Long in the second half against Troy turned into his third basket of the game off a Long assist.
“Bryce and Shawn have worked well together, and hopefully that will continue,” coach Bob Marlin said.
Washington and Long haven’t worked much on their tag-team effort in practice. Long said they rarely try to replicate a double-team situation on their own.
It’s more of an instinctual reaction, borne out of the chemistry created by two years of playing alongside each other. There is some preemptive communication, though.
“I always told him that if he gets double-teamed, I’m going to always try to finish in the paint, get big and give him a big target,” Washington said. “I have huge hands, and I tell him if he gets it anywhere in my area, I’m going to catch it.”
Long calls Washington’s hands “oven mitts,” and their size allows him to zip passes through the paint full-force, like that one in the second half against Troy.
With as much success as Washington has had making teams pay for double-teaming Long lately, will that make them stop sending multiple defenders Long’s way? Not likely, Marlin said.
“You almost have to do it (double team),” Marlin said. “What’s your philosophy? Do you want the ball out of (the hands of) the guy that’s scored 2,000 points and has got 1,000 rebounds when he’s got the ball on the block? Probably yes.
“Is Shawn a good passer? Yes he is, and he can make some great passes, but he’ll also throw a couple away. That’s another reason to do it.”
Long said he sometimes gets frustrated at being the focal point of the defense, but he’s come to understand it as a sign of respect for his talent. Washington, on the other hand, loves it when defenses collapse on Long, and not for entirely selfish reasons.
“It makes it hard for the other team to make a decision,” Washington said. “They’re either going to sink a guard to come guard me or have him stay out on the wing with our shooters.
“Either way it goes, it adds a mismatch. If they don’t double-team Shawn, it’s a tough matchup.”
Marlin is expecting Texas State to become the latest team to throw multiple defenders in Long’s direction. Bobcats coach Danny Kaspar has employed this strategy frequently in his matchups against talented big men.
The Cajuns will be ready.
“The guys know exactly what to do when that happens,” Marlin said.