LAFAYETTE — When asked what pleased him most after Saturday night’s 79-58 win against Appalachian State, Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin did not hesitate.
“The way we shared the ball in the first half,” he said.
The Ragin’ Cajuns played unselfish basketball for the first 20 minutes in the Cajundome, during which they handed out eight of their 11 assists. The ball frequently made its way around the offense until someone had a clean look.
And, many times, it was precipitated by the Cajuns using their best scorer as a decoy.
With Appalachian State crashing down with a double team on forward Shawn Long every time he touched the ball in the paint, Long turned into a distributor, which got the rest of the offense going.
“A lot of it came from them keying on Shawn, which is something we prepared for. I think every team’s going to do that,” senior guard Kasey Shepherd said. “The more they key on Shawn, Shawn just does what he does. He’s a good passer and helps us score easy buckets. Once we get that going, once everybody gets a feel for it, it’s easy to share the ball.”
Six players assisted a basket for the Cajuns, led by point guard Jay Wright’s four.
Shepherd scored a team-high 19 points in the win, which isn’t surprising.
But the way he did it was.
Shepherd, who earned his fourth consecutive start, only took two of his 12 field-goal attempts from beyond the 3-point line. Though he usually does the bulk of his scoring from the perimeter, he did the majority of his damage Saturday by slashing through the lane and drawing fouls with a Eurostep move.
“He attacked early in this game and even in the second half,” Marlin said. “We were out on the break in transition and the court was spread, and he was able to get to the basket and get fouled and make several baskets along with the free throw.”
The Cajuns quietly enjoyed one of their best free-throw shooting nights of the season, going 19-for-24 from the line, including 17-for-21 in the second half.
Entering Saturday’s game, the Cajuns were the second-worst free-throw shooting team in the Sun Belt Conference at 66.5 percent, but Marlin was not concerned about that figure over the long haul.
“We shoot the ball well, and I think we’ll make them,” he said.
Long, who leads the team in free-throw attempts, kept up his hot streak at the charity stripe.
Since a 4-for-10 night against Alabama, Long has connected on 81 percent (34-of-42) of his attempts, including a 5-for-6 effort Saturday.
The team’s upcoming four-game road swing will be broken into two trips, since the Cajuns are playing both games in Arkansas next week and both games in Georgia the following week.
Marlin said the team will fly to Little Rock on Wednesday evening for Thursday’s game before busing to Jonesboro, for a game Saturday against Arkansas State.
The team will make a return trip to Lafayette on a bus after that game.
“I think everybody’s more focused. We’re all locked in. I think we’re all on the same page now, and that’s what we need in order to be successful this year.” — Shepherd on where the team stands now compared to earlier in the year