Shawn Long’s free throws down stretch crucial for Cajuns _lowres

File photo by Brad kemp/ -- Louisiana-Lafayette forward Shawn Long came up big in overtime as the Cajuns fought back Troy 84-80.

LAFAYETTE — Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said earlier in the week that his team wasn’t going to be able to just coast to a Sun Belt Conference championship after a hot start, and that it would have to learn how to bounce back from adversity.

Adversity hit quicker than some might’ve expected, as the Cajuns (10-6, 4-1) dropped a tough road contest to a solid Georgia Southern team. They will get their first crack at a bounce-back that Saturday against South Alabama (4-12, 2-4) at 7 p.m. in the Cajundome.

The Cajuns are coming off their first loss in conference play, ending a four-game win streak in the process. After getting a full seven days off following their emotional 84-80 win against Georgia State, the Cajuns showed signs of rust in their 78-70 loss to Georgia Southern.

“Use the closer’s mentality, just put it behind us,” Marlin said. “It’s a game I wish we could play again, last night we didn’t have it and they got us.”

Some of the Cajuns’ early-season problems returned in the first half against Georgia Southern when they didn’t shoot the ball effectively and turned it over too much. The Cajuns reversed their poor play later in the game, but it wasn’t enough to erase an early deficit.

“We’ve got to be sharp,” Marlin said in a postgame radio interview. “We’ve got to be focused. I want more. I expect more out of our guys, and I’m going to command that I get it. Because I know how good they are individually and I know how good they can be collectively.”

It’s the second game in a row the Cajuns have come out of the gates slow, and Marlin said he addressed it with his team.

“We’ve got to come out and make shots early and execute what we’re trying to do,” Marlin said.

The Cajuns didn’t have much time to dwell on their loss, and that will be a bit of a theme in the next week. The South Alabama game is the beginning of a three-game homestand that will wrap up next Saturday against Arkansas State.

“We’re on the NBA portion of our schedule now,” Marlin said with a chuckle. “It’s a quick turnaround. We’ll regroup and be ready for South Alabama on Saturday.”

The Cajuns have faced three of the SBC’s better scorers in recent games, and they’ll be tested again against South Alabama’s Ken Williams.

Williams is a streaky high-volume shooter who has 50 more field goal attempts than the next closest player on the Jaguars squad. In 16 games this season, Williams has scored 16 or more seven times, but he’s also been held below double digits five times.

Lately, he’s been trending upward. Williams has poured in at least 23 points in each of his last three games, a hot streak that has been powered by some lethal downrange shooting.

Williams has connected on 12 of his last 17 attempts from 3-point range, a fact the Cajuns are well aware of heading into Saturday’s game.

“He’s a very good shooter, and he can score the basketball,” Marlin said. “He’s a good 3-point shooter, and we’ll have to do a good job on him. He’s a Texas kid. We saw him play in high school and we know how good he is.”

Junior forward Shawn Long is leading the Cajuns in scoring (15.6) and rebounding (8.9) this season, and he’s one of four Cajuns players to average double figures so far this year.

Playing on their home court should prove to be an excellent advantage for the Cajuns. They’re undefeated on their home court (7-0) and will be taking on a Jaguars team that has struggled mightily on the road (1-8).

Women aim for .500

After back-to-back impressive SBC wins, the Cajuns women might be licking their chops for Saturday’s game against South Alabama.

The Cajuns (10-4, 2-3) come into the game with the SBC’s third-best scoring defense and have forced more than 20 turnovers while limiting each of their past two opponents to less than 58 points.

South Alabama (3-12, 0-6) comes into the game with the SBC’s worst scoring offense (54.9 points per game) and is turning the ball over 20.7 times per game, the second-worst mark in the league.

After three consecutive losses to open conference play, the Cajuns can get back to .500 with a win. South Alabama is winless in league games this season.