LAFAYETTE —Shawn Long has taken care of business so far this season, averaging 15.4 points and nine rebounds — and that much was expected of him before the year started.
What has come as a bit of a surprise is that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s men’s basketball team hasn’t needed to rely on Long to have a big outing in the traditional statistical departments to secure a win. It’s a bit of a surprise to those outside of the basketball program, at least.
“We knew that we would have more balance,” coach Bob Marlin said. “I was reading a quote that (baseball coach Tony) Robichaux mentioned the other day about last year’s team, and you don’t want to put the stress of the bridge on one person.
“It takes everybody to hold the bridge together, and I certainly agree with that.”
Simply put, the Cajuns’ 9-2 record in their past 11 games can’t be pinned on a herculean effort by Long alone.
While Long has been fantastic in that stretch — scoring 18-plus points in six of those games and turning in five double-doubles — the players around him have done their share of heavy lifting.
Including Long, four Cajuns are averaging double figures this season, and in that 11-game stretch, five different players led the Cajuns in scoring.
With opposing teams making Long the focal point of their defensive effort, he’s been able to find open shooters who have subsequently knocked down shots. That balanced effort has played a large role in the Cajuns leading the league by a wide margin in scoring average at 82.6 points per game.
“Everybody balances out the scoring, so the weight won’t be on one guy,” Long said. “I’ll embrace it if coach needs me to go out and do that, but luckily I’ve got guys around me that enable me to impact the game in different ways besides scoring.”
One of the ways Long has impacted the game throughout his career has been as a premier rim defender, but he was getting into trouble earlier this season by getting too aggressive when trying to block or alter shots. Long racked up at least three fouls in each of his first six games.
Lately though, Long has reversed that trend. He’s picked up three or more fouls in only two of the Cajuns’ past seven games, allowing him to stay on the court for longer stretches.
“I learned that some things you’ve got to just let go,” Long said. “You can’t get everything, you can’t get every block. I found a balance, being able to stay on the floor and help my team.”
With his team playing a solid brand of basketball 15 games into the regular season, Marlin said he is happy with where the Cajuns are.
But he was also quick to point out that it will likely have to respond to some more adversity before the season is through.
“We’ll have to fight through it,” Marlin said. “It’s never as good as it seems, it’s never as bad as it seems. We’ve got some tough road games ahead of us, and we’ve got some tough games in the Cajundome. There’s a lot of parity in our league.
“We’re going to have to have some things go our way if we’re going to continue to win basketball games. And when they don’t, we’re going to have to be mentally tough to fight through that and put that one behind us and move on, have the closer’s mentality.”