LAFAYETTE — All of a sudden, and at the worst possible time, the Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team has found itself in a losing streak.
There’s no shame in falling just short of an epic comeback against a Little Rock team that’s leading the nation in winning percentage, nor is there embarrassment in dropping a white-knuckle overtime contest to Texas-Arlington, which has only lost once on its home court this season and entered Thursday’s game ranked fifth nationally in scoring margin at home.
But there’s also no time for moral victories. With five games remaining, the two-game slide has effectively dropped the Cajuns (14-10, 10-5) out of a top-two seed in the all-important Sun Belt tournament. Saturday’s game at Texas State presents an opportunity the Cajuns must capitalize on.
The Bobcats (10-13, 4-10) have been in a free fall since getting blown out 80-54 at the Cajundome on Jan. 28. They have won one of their past seven games, a 69-68 victory against fellow bottom-feeder Appalachian State, and have been outscored by an average margin of 10.9 points.
Louisiana-Monroe was the latest team to drop Texas State on Thursday, vaulting the Warhawks into a second-place tie with the Cajuns. Since ULM beat Little Rock last week, it owns a tiebreaker with the Cajuns.
If recent history is indicative of anything, Texas State is a good place for the Cajuns to bounce back. In seven meetings, the Cajuns have never lost. They’ve won six straight since Texas State joined the league in 2013-14, including their opening game of the conference tournament last season.
In the first meeting between the teams this season, the Cajuns received big efforts from point guard Jay Wright and reserve forward Devonta Walker, who combined for 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
Wright flirted with a triple-double, putting up eight rebounds and seven assists to go with 14 points. He made a season-best four 3-pointers.
Emani Gant leads the Bobcats in scoring at 12.7 points, but the Cajuns historically have done a nice job keeping him under wraps. He scored just six points on 3-for-11 shooting in the earlier matchup and is averaging 10 points against the Cajuns in his career.
With ULM facing the difficult task of playing in Arlington on Saturday, a win could put the Cajuns back in second place — important because it would secure a two-round bye in the conference tournament.
Women look to build momentum
The Cajuns women rediscovered their winning ways Thursday in Arlington — particularly on the defensive end, where they harassed the Mavericks into a 32 percent shooting night while forcing 22 turnovers to snap a two-game losing skid.
With the win, the Cajuns stayed in third place, a game behind Little Rock. They’re hoping to build on that win while dishing out some payback Saturday.
The first meeting between the Cajuns and Texas State ended in an ugly 46-42 loss for the Cajuns. It was the Cajuns’ first game without guard Jaylyn Gordon, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.
In that game, the Cajuns made just two 3-pointers — Gordon’s specialty — and shot just 27.8 percent. Since then, it has been a trial of figuring out how to play without the team’s best shooter.
Without Gordon’s shooting ability to space the floor, the Cajuns have seen their team scoring average dip by 11.4 points per game as they’ve gone 3-4 without her in the lineup.
Perhaps that’s why coach Garry Brodhead said earlier in the week that he wanted to see a rejuvenated effort on the defensive end, a message the Cajuns appeared to have been listening to ahead of Thursday’s game against UT-Arlington.
The Cajuns’ remaining five games come against teams that have gone a combined 38-44 in SBC play, and only one — South Alabama at 9-7 — has a winning record in conference play.