The University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team got a dose of its own medicine in Saturday’s second half, and because of that the Cajuns are out of first place in the Sun Belt Conference race.
South Alabama turned up the defensive intensity in the final 20 minutes, holding the Cajuns to 11-of-35 shooting and to only one field goal in a late six-minute stretch, and the Jaguars shot the hosts out of the Cajundome with a surprising 89-82 victory.
USA (5-12, 3-4 Sun Belt) made 20-of-30 shots in the second half after the hosts took a 44-35 halftime lead, and Jaguar coach Matthew Graves railed at his squad at halftime about that 44-point Cajun total.
“I told them we were on our way to getting beat 95-90,” he said after his team snapped a two-game loss streak. “In the second half, we dug in defensively and made it difficult for them to score.”
The Cajuns (10-7, 4-2) made only one shot away from the basket in the first 10 minutes after halftime, and the Jags used runs of 8-0 and 6-0 to tie the game for the first time and to take their first lead with 8:25 left on Taishuan Johnson’s layup off a steal.
USA also had a 10-2 run, punctuated by Johnson’s jumper with 3:54 left, that made it 75-68, and UL-Lafayette never got closer than three points the rest of the way.
“We didn’t defend, that’s the bottom line,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “It doesn’t matter who we play, if we give up 55 percent from the floor we won’t be playing very long in the tournament.”
The loss was the second in 48 hours for the Cajuns after they won their first four Sun Belt games, after Thursday’s 78-70 loss at Georgia Southern, and they’ll now host the new league leader Monday. Surprising UL-Monroe (5-1) comes to the Cajundome for a 7:15 p.m. contest after taking a 64-52 home win over Arkansas-Little Rock Saturday afternoon.
Junior Shawn Long finished with 22 points and 22 rebounds in 30 minutes, tying for the sixth-highest rebound total in school history, but was only 6-of-18 shooting in his 42nd career double-double.
“There’s a reason he’s an NBA talent,” Graves said of Long. “You can’t let their other guys get going. I thought he had to work for a lot of his shots, and I think that tired him out on the defensive end.”
“They didn’t double him (Long) early and did a lot late,” Marlin said. “They kept him off balance. We didn’t make the extra pass tonight.”
Ken Williams gunned in a career-high 28 points to pace five double-figure scorers for USA, which was run out of the Cajundome 102-74 in last year’s meeting in Lafayette. Saturday night, the Jags outscored UL-Lafayette 54-38 in the second half.
“For us not to come out and play as well defensively as we can, that’s disappointing,” said Long, who had a double-double with five minutes left in the first half. “We can’t just outscore everybody.”
The Cajuns led by as many as 15 in the first half, with Bryce Washington’s driving jumper providing a 25-10 lead with 8:23 left in the half. It was still a double-digit game before USA hit three treys in a span of 90 seconds, the last from Williams cutting it to 34-30 at the 2:54 mark.
Shepherd hit an off-balance trey at the halftime horn for the nine-point bulge, and also had an alley-oop pass on a Brian Williams dunk that kept the lead at 53-45 with 14:29 left. The Jags, though, scored the next eight points, with Georgi Boyanov’s jumper tying the game for the first time at 53.
At that point, USA had hit nine of its first 13 shots coming out of halftime.
“They’re a solid offensive team with good spacing,” Marlin said. “They executed at the end of the clock and got some baskets. We told the guys at halftime that they were going to come back, and they just made every shot. They put on a show and they deserved to win.”