The home court means a lot to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team. Apparently, it means just as much to its UL-Monroe counterparts.
Neither team has lost at home this season, so it could be advantage Ragin’ Cajuns when the teams meet in an unusual Tuesday night Sun Belt Conference game. Tipoff is set for 7:15 p.m. at the Cajundome following a doubleheader opener between the UL-Lafayette and UL-Monroe women’s teams at 5 p.m.
The Cajuns and the Warhawks are a combined 18-0 on their home floors, each with nine wins. UL-Lafayette (11-8, 7-3) wraps up a five-game homestand and puts a six-game win streak on the line. ULM (10-11, 6-4) has won its past four games, all at home.
The Warhawks are 23-3 at home over the past two seasons. The Cajuns are 35-4 in the Cajundome over the past three years.
On the road? The Warhawks are 1-11 on the road and haven’t won away from Ewing Coliseum since a Nov. 19 victory over Northwestern State And that’s not good news, considering ULM has six of its next eight outings on the road.
The Cajuns aren’t much better, standing 2-8 away from home. But the difference is that UL-Lafayette swept the Sun Belt’s Georgia entities with wins at Georgia Southern and Georgia State by a combined 42 points just before the recent homestand. ULM lost at both on the same weekend, both by double-figure margins.
“That’s the difference in our records: the Georgia swing we swept, and they were swept,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “That, and they beat us earlier.”
That “earlier” game came on Dec. 3, the nation’s second-earliest conference game, when ULM controlled much of the tempo and took an 81-70 victory. Senior forward and Australian native Majok Deng exploded for 30 points, including three 3-pointers and 11-of-13 free throws in pacing that victory.
“Deng does a good job scoring,” Marlin said. “We missed some coverages on him. We weren’t supposed to let him have open looks. But he’s playing like a first-team all-league guy.”
Deng had seven more 3-pointers Thursday, all in the second half, in ULM’s racehorse 99-88 win over UT Arlington in a 29-point outing. He followed with a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds in a 72-59 win over Texas State on Saturday.
The Cajuns also rolled both of those teams at home, topping Texas State 80-54 on Thursday and UTA 90-75 on Saturday, and outrebounded those clubs by a combined 81-42 margin.
Cajun senior postman Shawn Long — named Sun Belt and LSWA Player of the Week — was held to 10 points, his second-lowest output of the season, and eight rebounds in that loss. But since the start of regular conference play five weeks ago, Long has had double-double efforts in eight of nine games, and the Morgan City product is averaging 19.9 points and 13.9 rebounds in the current win streak.
Even though the two are their team’s biggest players, Long at 6-foot-11 and Deng at 6-10, and both lead their teams in blocked shots by a big margin, they likely won’t match up on either end of the floor Tuesday.
“Deng’s a perimeter guy who can defend inside,” Marlin said. “Shawn’s an inside guy who has the ability to move on the perimeter.”
Long had 22 points and 14 rebounds in Saturday’s win over UTA. And in his 34 Thursday minutes, he had one fewer rebound (14) than the entire Texas State team.
“Rebounding is an advantage that we have every night,” Marlin said, and the numbers back that up.
UL-Lafayette leads the Sun Belt with a plus-9.1 rebound advantage. And even in the early-December loss at ULM, the Cajuns had a 38-31 advantage on the boards. But that wasn’t enough to overcome 2-of-18 shooting from 3-point range, especially when the host Warhawks were going 9-of-15.
“That’s why everyone wants to play at home,” Marlin said. “(The Warhawks) haven’t made the shots as much as they’ve made at home, and they haven’t defended quite as well.”
The Cajuns are second in the Sun Belt standings, with the Warhawks one game back and tied for third place, making Tuesday’s meeting even more important with the upcoming heavy road slates.
“The schedule’s flipped,” said Marlin, whose UL-Lafayette teams are 43-16 in February and March since his arrival. “This is the time of year to play your best basketball, and we keep telling our guys that the most important part of the season is that the end, and March is what it’s all about.”