With the vagaries of the Sun Belt Conference schedule, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team has faced a lot of rested teams, and they’ll do it again Thursday when the Ragin’ Cajuns welcome Appalachian State to start a two-game Sun Belt homestand.
When the Cajuns (12-10, 6-5 Sun Belt) face the Mountaineers at 7:15 p.m. Thursday at the Cajundome, it will mark the fourth straight game in which UL-Lafayette has played a team that just had a day off in the Sun Belt schedule. Appalachian State (8-11, 5-5) hasn’t played since an 83-46 humbling at league-leading Georgia Southern last Thursday.
The Cajuns will also face another rested team Saturday when they host Texas-Arlington, which is open Thursday and hasn’t played since a home loss to Troy on Saturday.
“It’s just part of the game,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin, whose team held on for a 72-63 win at Texas State on Saturday. “The good thing is that now, we’ve got five out of our nine left at home and four on the road. From here on, it’s about seeding and getting the best seed we can.”
That was also the case last season, when UL-Lafayette was 3-5 in conference play at the end of January before winning eight of its last 10 in the regular season to take the No. 3 seed in the league tournament. The Cajuns then won three games at UNO’s Lakefront Arena in a 40-hour span to win the tournament title and advance to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s all in front of us,” Marlin said. “We know if we shoot the ball and defend a little better, we’re one of the better teams in the league.”
The Cajuns did that shooting and defending against Appalachian State one month ago in the teams’ first-ever Sun Belt meeting. Marlin got his 300th career win when his team shot 51.7 percent from the field and held the host Mountaineers under 30 percent in the first half in what became an easy 80-64 victory.
The Cajuns had five double-figure scorers in that game, while holding Appalachian State’s preseason all-Sun Belt picks Frank Eaves and Tommy Spagnolo to a combined 19 points and a 7-of-22 shooting mark.
Marlin cautioned that the Mountaineers are a different team now.
“They lost three in a row after that,” he said. “But now, they’ve won four and lost only one. Eaves can really shoot it ... he had 31 of their 64 at Texas State (a 64-58 win). We did a good job on him up there, and he missed some shots, but we’ll have to be ready and get aggressive on defense.”
Appalachian State will try to wash away the ugliness of its last outing, when the Mountaineers didn’t have a double-figure scorer and didn’t get above the 25-percent shooting mark until the game’s final five minutes.
The Cajuns fared much better in their past game, leading Texas State by 16 points in each half and closing the game on a 14-1 run that overcame a late four-point deficit. That snapped a three-game road losing streak and followed five losses in six games since the four-game win streak to start the league season.
“(Texas State) had been struggling, and we were fortunate to get off to a good start,” Marlin said. “We shared the ball well, Bryce (Washington) and Johnathan (Stove) had good first halves. We let them come back, but that’s going to happen. Nobody in this league is going to lay down and let you beat them, especially at home.”
Stove had 15 first-half points on his way to a career-high 19, while fellow freshman Washington had nine rebounds in his second straight start. Shawn Long (averaging 17.5 points, 10.2 rebounds) had his second double-double in as many games with 17 points and 13 rebounds, even though he played the final 9:31 with four fouls.
“When Shawn was having to sit for a while, the other guys stepped up,” Marlin said. “Shawn’s done a much better job of staying in the game with fouls than he did a year ago. But getting contributions from those guys is huge. If you look at all our guards, Stove’s one of our best rebounders and one of the best defenders there, and Bryce can impact a game without scoring.”
WOMEN SEEKING NO. 15: The UL-Lafayette’s women’s squad will look to surpass its previous-year win total Thursday when the Cajuns host Appalachian State in the 5 p.m. Sun Belt doubleheader opener.
The Cajuns (14-6, 6-5) finished 14-16 last year and will be looking to reach the 15-win mark for the first time since 2007 against the Mountaineers (10-9, 5-5), who haven’t played since a 77-74 road win at Georgia Southern last Thursday. Appalachian State, wrapping up a three-game road swing, took a 63-51 win over UL-Lafayette on Jan. 5 in Boone, North Carolina.
Since then, the Cajuns have won six of eight, including knocking off two teams that are ahead of them in the league standings: Arkansas State and Texas State.
“We’re a different team than we were then,” UL-Lafayette coach Garry Brodhead said of the previous loss to the Mountaineers. “We’ve come a long way offensively and defensively.”
The Cajuns rank fifth nationally in turnover margin and have forced opponents to 20 or more turnovers in nine of their past 10 games. Guards Jaylyn Gordon (13.3), Kia Wilridge (12.8) and Keke Veal (12.5) lead a balanced scoring attack.