The UL-Lafayette men's basketball team is a prohibitive favorite to set a school record for wins in a season this week, adding to a résumé that already ranks among the best in school history.
Now, a Ragin’ Cajuns squad that has made role-defining an art form takes on a new role — that of promoter and ticket-seller.
The Cajuns players themselves have taken matters into their own hands to get people to turn out for their final two home games of the season, beginning at 7:15 p.m. Thursday against Arkansas State.
“Bryce Washington has made it a personal crusade to pack the Cajundome this week,” UL-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin said. “He and all of our guys are excited about this week playing at home, and they’re on a mission to have the biggest crowds ever.”
Even with the runaway success of the Cajuns (25-4, 15-1), who have already locked up the outright Sun Belt Conference title and a postseason berth, fans have not flocked to see a team that takes the nation’s second-longest home-court winning streak into Thursday’s game against the Red Wolves (10-19, 5-11) and Saturday’s home finale against Little Rock (6-23, 3-13).
UL-Lafayette is averaging just 4,130 fans in its 13 home appearances this year, even though the Cajuns have not lost a home game and have only once won by less than a double-digit margin. The current 16-game home winning streak dating to last season trails only the 20 straight home wins of South Dakota State, which has already completed its home games for the season.
The Cajuns have drawn more than 5,000 fans only three times with a high of 5,813 for a mid-January game against state and Sun Belt rival UL-Monroe. The last home game 12 days ago had 5,104 on hand for a 100-79 romp over a Texas-Arlington team that was the preseason pick to win the conference title.
Marlin said the players wanted to do something themselves to boost attendance and interest, including heavy use of social media and on-campus interaction. He said that topic was discussed following Saturday’s 88-71 road win at South Alabama, even more than the Cajuns locking up the outright league title with that victory.
“I told them to get busy,” Marlin said. “Start doing whatever you have to do, do what you do on Twitter, get it out there. They said they were on it and that they were going to start hitting it hard this week, some ideas on campus and challenging people to come out.
“With what they’re doing and what they’ve accomplished, those guys deserve for people to come out and watch them, especially these seniors that will be playing their last games here this weekend.”
UL-Lafayette goes into Thursday’s game having already tied the school record for wins (25), and records and pride are the only things on the line on a weekend that they’re heavily favored to become the winningest Cajun team ever. Saturday’s win at USA assured the league title, the No. 1 seed in next week's Sun Belt tournament and no worse than the NIT berth that goes to the regular-season champion if it is not invited to the NCAA field.
They’ll also be going up against an Arkansas State team that has struggled in conference play and has lost four of its last five, including home games to Little Rock and Coastal Carolina — two teams with a combined 10-22 Sun Belt record.
“One thing about this team is that they’ve never taken anything for granted,” Marlin said. “They’ve been very good at keeping their focus and looking only at the next game and not what’s coming down the road. They’re always looking at the next opportunity in front of them. They’ve reached some goals and they’re setting more.”