LAFAYETTE — Saturday night’s 68-64 loss to Little Rock did not change the the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team’s position in the Sun Belt Conference standings, but it will make it much harder for the Cajuns to earn a regular-season title.
But the conference title race might not be the one to watch out for as the season enters the final three weeks.
With six games left to go in the regular season, the Cajuns (14-9, 10-4) are two games behind the Trojans (22-3, 12-2) in the conference race — effectively three games, when considering Little Rock swept the season series and owns a tiebreaker.
The Cajuns, who lost for the first time at home this season Saturday, have two more home games this season. The Trojans, unbeaten at home, have three more home games.
The remainder of Little Rock’s schedule, with a combined SBC record of 36-46, is only slightly more-challenging than the Cajuns’ (34-48).
Since the regular-season title race is effectively out of the Cajuns control — it’s possible, if not likely, that the Cajuns won’t win the title even if they win out — the most important battle might be between them and their neighbors to the north.
The Cajuns have a one-game lead on UL-Monroe, which swept Little Rock and Arkansas State at home last week, for a crucial top-two seed in the conference tournament. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds get first- and second-round byes in the tournament.
Since they are traveling partners, the Cajuns and Warhawks each have a four-game road span remaining against Texas State, UT-Arlington, Troy and South Alabama, with home games against Georgia State and Georgia Southern to close the season.
If Little Rock wins the regular-season championship and the Cajuns and Warhawks wind up tied, the tiebreaker would go to UL-Monroe.
Since the Cajuns and Warhawks split the season series against each other, the next tie breaker would be, according to the Sun Belt’s website, “each team’s win-loss percentage (against) the team occupying the highest position in the final regular-season standings.” The Warhawks would win that tie-breaker by virtue of their win against Little Rock on Thursday.
Sophomore guard Johnathan Stove scored a season-high 18 points against Little Rock on Saturday, continuing a strong recent scoring trend for the Baton Rouge native.
After reaching double figures just once in the first 10 conference games, including a Dec. 3 game against UL-Monroe, Stove has scored at least 10 points in four straight games. He’s averaging an even 14 points in those contests.
Most of his damage has been done at the free-throw line. Stove has been more aggressive attacking the rim in recent games, and he’s been drawing a lot of contact in the process.
He sank all 10 of his free-throw attempts Saturday, a new career high in both makes and attempts, and is shooting 26-for-31 from the line in his past four games.
The Cajuns made a late rush to get fans to come out Saturday, announcing a promotion Friday afternoon that allowed fans to purchase two tickets for $10, with each additional ticket costing $5. Kids also got in free if they were wearing a jersey of any type.
The announced attendance for the game was 5,347 — the second largest crowd at a Cajuns home basketball game this season behind the 6,064 that came out to see the Cajuns beat Troy 88-65.