There was no panic, and not even a lot of concern, on Louisiana-Lafayette’s basketball bench early in Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference game against Louisiana-Monroe.
Even though the Ragin’ Cajuns missed their first 11 shots from the floor, had three turnovers in the first 72 seconds, and started 0-for-7 outside the 3-point arc, there was little anxiety.
“We know what everybody’s capable of,” junior point guard Marcus Stroman said. “We didn’t lay all week and we had so much energy.”
“We were kind of rusty,” senior guard Frank Bartley said. “Once we got it going and we saw the ball go in, we just took it from there.”
The Cajuns took it in a literal sense on the way to blowing out state rival UL-Monroe 82-48 for their fifth straight Sun Belt victory and their 11th straight league win dating to last season. UL-Lafayette led by 40 or more points three times in the final eight minutes despite playing 11 players double-digit minutes and no player scoring more than 12 points.
Coach Bob Marlin wasn’t worried early and was confident in the Cajuns defense, which leads the Sun Belt in scoring by a wide margin. UL-Lafayette didn’t score in the first 5½ minutes, not before JaKeenan Gant hit a jumper at the 14:25 mark, but even with those shooting struggles the Cajuns only trailed 3-0.
The Cajuns forced eight turnovers in the first eight minutes, and by halftime the Cajuns led 33-15, and the Warhawks were only 5-of-21 from the floor. Meanwhile, UL-Lafayette hit 13 of its last 22 shots before halftime, including Bartley halting an 0-for-7 3-point streak with a 3-pointer at the halftime horn.
“We didn’t execute, and we made a couple of bad decisions the first few minutes,” he said, “but our defense was so good that we stayed in the game and were able to hang on. To miss our first 11 shots and to still have an 18-point lead at the half, that’s pretty amazing.
“We weren’t very good at the 3-point game either. Frank didn’t miss a shot today in practice and couldn’t buy one tonight. But we ran a set play against their zone and he got one to finish the half, and it seemed to open the gates a little bit.”
It was more like floodgates, as UL-Lafayette hit its first nine 3-point shots and 11 of its first 12 after halftime, those coming from seven players. Gant, who had missed the past two games with a hand injury, hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first two minutes, Malik Marquetti’s second 3-pointer in 40 seconds put the Cajuns up 63-24 with 12 minutes left, and Johnathan Stove’s second 3-pointer in 33 seconds provided a 42-point, 82-40 advantage with 4:40 left.
“(ULM) changed defenses, 2-3, 1-2-2, press, man, they were trying to keep us off balance and muck it up a little bit,” Marlin said. “But we were able to hit shots and score off our defense in transition.”
The win continued some impressive streaks including the school-record 11th consecutive conference win, breaking the mark of 10 in a row the Cajuns had in Marlin’s first season in 2011. UL-Lafayette’s 5-0 conference start is its best since the 1999-2000 season, and all five league wins have been by double digits. The Cajuns have also won 17 straight games against Louisiana competition.
The 15-3 record also ranks in the top 20 nationally and is the best 18-game start since the 1972-73 team started out 17-1.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Bartley, who joined Gant as top scorer with 12 points. “We’re winning and we have a lot of guys that are older and more mature so we know how to handle it. We’ve got tomorrow off and then we’ll get ready for the Texas trip. We’ll be focused again.”
The Cajuns travel to preseason league favorite Texas-Arlington (12-6, 3-2) and Texas State (11-7, 4-1) in a Thursday-Saturday swing, and will play seven of their next nine games away from the Cajundome where they are 9-0 this season.
“We’re excited where we are, but we know we have our work cut out for us,” Marlin said. “We’ve got some battles coming up, trust me. There won’t be many more of these type scores for sure.”
UL-Lafayette ranks in the top 25 nationally in 10 team categories:
Assists/Game 10th 18.2
Total Assists 12th 328
Scoring Margin 15th 14.8
Won-Lost Percentage 17th .833
Free Throws Made 18th 316
Total Offense 21st 84.9
Total Steals 22nd 151
Steals/Game 23rd 8.4
Rebound Margin 25th 7.2
Offensive rebounds/game 25th 13.0