LAFAYETTE — It’s all about comfort, and in this case, manufacturing comfort that hasn’t been there yet.
The Louisiana-Lafayette basketball team begins a four-game road swing Thursday night in Little Rock, a stretch that figures to be crucial for a team that has yet to win a game on the road this season. The Cajuns will travel to face Arkansas State on Saturday, then follow that with a road trip to face Georgia State and Georgia Southern next week.
A win Thursday night could go a long way in establishing some of the comfort coach Bob Marlin and his players are seeking. The Cajuns (5-6, 1-1 Sun Belt) are 0-6 on the road this season
“Every road game from here on out will be that, a chance for us to build,” senior forward Shawn Long said. “When we become comfortable when we’re uncomfortable, that’s when we’ll become a good team.
“Most people are a little uncomfortable on the road. When we treat every road game like a home game, we’ll start to see some good outcomes.”
The outcomes thus far on the road have been discouraging to those following the program. Though the Cajuns have played a difficult road schedule so far — one that includes No. 12 Miami, UCLA, Alabama and Louisiana Tech — the home/road splits have grabbed attention, particularly in shooting percentage.
The Cajuns are shooting 9.6 percent better at the Cajundome than they are on the road, and opponents are shooting 19.1 percent better on their home courts. The Cajuns are outscoring opponents by 29.1 points per game at home and being outscored 13.4 points per game on the road.
Little Rock presents yet another challenging road opponent.
The Trojans come into Thursday’s game with the best overall record in the Sun Belt Conference at 12-1. That includes a 4-0 record at home, where Little Rock has won by an average margin of 28.8 points per game.
They bring the nation’s top scoring defense into the contest at 55.6 points per game and are ranked in the top three of 10 different per-game team categories among SBC teams.
“We’re going to have to be a tough team because Little Rock is very physical,” Marlin said. “They’ve got some mental toughness and they’ve had success. To go get that win there will require a great effort on our guys’ part to follow the game plan and to stay focused on the defensive end for 40 minutes.”
For what it’s worth, the Cajuns players themselves aren’t worrying about their slow start on the road.
The new year brought with it a new season, an opportunity to start fresh and make an ascent up the conference standings — which are the most important, according to Marlin and his players when it comes down to determining the Cajuns’ best route to the NCAA tournament.
“We haven’t won a road game yet, but this could be the first one we get if we go in there focused and have the same type of defensive effort we had this past Saturday (in a 79-58 win against Appalachian State),” said senior guard Kasey Shepherd. “It’s … a really big game for us.”
Maybe the Cajuns are ready to reverse their road fortunes.
Long said the team squeezed the positives out of its struggles on the road earlier in the season. It used the losses as a teaching moment rather than letting discouragement creep in.
“I think it’s just going to be a different feel, you know? A different atmosphere,” Long said. “I think the guys will be ready. It’s farther along in the season than it was earlier. We came together and built a lot of chemistry, and I think it’s going to show.”
Chemistry and comfort could go a long way for the Cajuns. Shepherd actually counts himself as one who is more comfortable on the road than he is at home, so even though the Cajuns are 0-6 on the road currently, he doesn’t see a four-game road swing as a negative.
It’s an opportunity.
“I don’t think that’s a good way of looking at it anyway, to look at it like we haven’t won yet and this will be a bad situation,” Shepherd said. “It’s never that. Every game is an opportunity to win one. We’ll be grateful to try and get as many of these road wins as we can.”