LAFAYETTE — When the Ragin’ Cajuns mentally reviewed their Jan. 16 trip to Atlanta, it was an afternoon when they got into the zone against a zone.
In that first meeting against Georgia State, a dual threat and decision making helped contribute to an 87-54 Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball win at the GSU Sports Arena.
“We scored the ball and attacked their zone better than any time we had played them,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said.
It is an inside-outside two-part formula the Cajuns have been working to put together consistently during the dozen games they have played since that day.
The next chance comes Thursday night at the Cajundome at 7:15 p.m. when the Cajuns (15-12, 11-7 Sun Belt) and Panthers (15-12, 8-10) put their rivalry back in action. Cajuns point guard Jay Wright is questionable because of the right index finger dislocations he suffered Thursday during a game against Troy.
“Once we knocked shots down, it was easier to get things done (in that first game),” said senior guard Kasey Shepherd, who made 5-of-11 from long range on the way to 19 points.
Shepherd’s analysis of Georgia State’s zone defense during the past few seasons included the tough moments created by the Panthers’ all-time leading scorer. R.J. Hunter had 1,819 points for the Panthers from 2012-15. His 6-foot-6 frame at the top of a zone or on the wing made it challenging to find clear passing lanes.
“That made it difficult to get into our offense at times.” Shepherd said.
With Hunter no longer being part of the equation, sight lines for post entry passes became easier in that first contest. In addition to Shepherd’s efforts, Shawn Long and Bryce Washington combined to go 13-for-17 for 31 points.
Georgia State comes into the contest having won two of their last three. Home wins over Arkansas State and Appalachian State were broken up by a 54-52 loss at Georgia Southern.
Forward Jeremy Hollowell has been the primary scorer for the Panthers lately — he has been the leading scorer in five of their past six games. That run has propelled him to the team lead with a 14.9 scoring average. Senior guard Kevin Ware is next at 12.2.
Those were the top two threats that Shepherd said have to be contained by the Cajuns.
“Ware is really athletic and Hollowell is a good scorer and shooter,” Shepherd said.
A third threat is in play as the Cajuns battle to stay in the third spot in the conference standings. The Panthers will bring the memory of a 33-point home defeat with them.
The Panthers dropped seven of their next nine after that loss to the Cajuns.
“Georgia State will be ready to go,” Marlin said. “We beat them by a wide margin and that changed their season a little bit.”
Cajuns look to bounce back: Coming off a pair of road defeats in Alabama, the Cajuns women (18-9, 11-7) will face Georgia State at 5 p.m. Thursday. The Panthers figure to increase the pace of play occasionally at a more moderate overall tempo than an opponent such as Troy.
“We went against two teams (Troy and South Alabama) that are really good out in transition,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said. “Georgia State will push a little.”
The Panthers have relied on their bench to help on that mission, Georgia State has played 10 players or more as a routine practice. Within that effort, freshman point guard Madison Newby has averaged the most minutes (30.8). Newby leads the conference with 5.1 assists per game.
Keke Veal and Kia Wilridge will be the main defenders on Newby when she works to initiate the Panthers offense.
Veal has 248 career steals, which puts her 14 away from moving into the second spot on the Cajuns’ all-time list.