LAFAYETTE — Coach Bob Marlin was political when discussing the budding rivalry between the University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team and Georgia State, but senior guard Xavian Rimmer had to set the record straight.
“I’m just going to put it out there; we hate each other,” Rimmer said. “They hate us; we hate them.”
No love will be lost when the Cajuns (9-5, 3-0) and Panthers (9-5, 2-1) meet for the first time this season at 7:15 p.m. Thursday in the Cajundome. And judging by the recent and limited history of the series, fans should be in line for another good one.
The two teams clashed for a memorable overtime thriller in last season’s Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game, which the Cajuns won 82-81 to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Georgia State won both regular-season matchups last season, including an 80-77 game in Atlanta that the Panthers won on a Manny Atkins 3-pointer with two seconds remaining.
This time around, both teams again find themselves at the top of the conference. They each come into the game with nine wins, with the Cajuns sitting on top of the SBC standings with a 3-0 conference record.
“It’s just two good teams going at it,” Marlin said. “We’re up at the top of the standings and played for the championship game last year, and maybe we can do it again this year. We’ll have to wait and see.”
The Panthers won’t have Atkins and guard Devonta White, who combined to score 26 points per game last season, but they return a formidable pair in guards R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, both of whom are averaging better than 19 per game this year.
Hunter, the reigning SBC Player of the Year, got off to a roaring start this season but has struggled shooting as of late. After shooting the lights out in the Panthers’ first eight games, Hunter made only 31.3 percent of his shots over the past six games.
Harrow has been a bit more consistent, and he’s certainly familiar with the Cajuns. He lit them up for 37 in last year’s SBC tournament final. The Cajuns should also see a heavy dose of former Louisville player Kevin Ware, who is the team’s third option but recently scored a career-high 21 points.
As important as it is to limit those players, the Cajuns know they can’t devote all their attention to stopping them.
“We’ve got to be aware of the other guys too, because they’ve got more than three players,” Cajuns senior forward Brian Williams said.
If there’s anyone who can emerge victorious from a shootout with Georgia State, it might be the Cajuns, especially lately. The Cajuns have won six of their past seven games, scoring 94.7 points per game in the process.
In order for the Cajuns to score in bunches Thursday, they’ll likely have to make some jump shots against the Panthers’ 2-3 zone defense.
“Open shots are going to be a big key in this game,” Rimmer said. “Between me (and guards) Kasey Shepherd and Hayward Register, we’ve got to find the open spots in the zone. They’ll play zone the whole game, so we’ve got to make shots.”
The Cajuns might look back to the SBC tournament championship for a way to attack the zone. Rimmer drilled seven 3-pointers in a 27-point effort that day.
“He’s doing a good job shooting the ball recently,” Marlin said. “We’d like for him to make some shots, he did against them in the championship game. He had a big game for us, and we probably don’t win if he doesn’t make those 3-point shots.”
Women look to end skid
The women’s basketball team is hoping it can snap a three-game skid against Georgia State (7-5, 2-1) at 5 p.m. Thursday.
After averaging 64 points per game during a blistering 8-1 start, the Cajuns have stagnated lately on the offensive end, scoring just 49 points per game in conference play.
“That’s going to be the No. 1 thing, to get our kids to get more comfortable playing together on the offensive side,” coach Gary Brodhead said. “It would allow us to get a little better shots and to score a little bit more.
“We should be able to defend everybody, we’re creating turnovers.”