High-scoring Cajuns men’s basketball team turns focus to defense _lowres

Photo by BRAD KEMP/RaginCajuns.com -- ULLafayette players Shawn Long, left, and Jay Wright defend Mississippi College's Tristan Moore during an exhibition game this month. Coach Bob Marlin is looking for better defense from the Cajuns than they've shown in their first three games.

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team is averaging 92.7 points per game entering the season’s third week and ranks in the national top 15 in both scoring and rebound margin.

Over the past two games, 15th-ranked Miami and Alabama have combined to make 27 of 48 3-pointers on the way to home-court wins.

Guess on which number Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin is more focused.

“We have to get better defensively and take better care of the basketball,” said Marlin, whose Cajuns return to the Cajundome at 7 p.m. Wednesday to face Loyola-New Orleans in their last November home game. “We scored 50 points in the second half in ACC and SEC arenas. That should be sufficient if you defend just a little bit.”

Defense has been the focus of UL-Lafayette practices since the team returned from the 105-93 loss at Alabama on Friday, one that came four days after a 93-77 road loss at Miami, the nation’s only ranked 5-0 team.

“It goes back to one-on-one basketball, and we’ve played one-on-one a lot in practice the last two days,” Marlin said. “It’s been manning up, guarding your yard and doing a good job of containing the ball, and hoping they don’t shoot 75 percent from 3.”

Loyola (4-3) hasn’t quite done that, but the Wolf Pack is averaging 83.7 points per game and has made 45 3-pointers. Loyola had won two in a row before falling 88-79 to Auburn-Montgomery on Monday.

The NAIA squad may not be an Atlantic Coast Conference or Southeastern Conference member, but the Wolf Pack is one of the few Louisiana teams that holds an all-time advantage over the Cajuns. Loyola is 16-14 all-time against UL-Lafayette, even though this is only the third meeting since 1958 and the Cajuns won games in 2001 and 2003 by 20 and 32-point margins.

Junior guard Jalen Gray leads four Loyola players averaging at least 13 points with a 17.7 average, while 6-foot-5 wingman Johnny Griffin is averaging 15.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.

“Gray can score the ball, and Griffin’s a really good athlete,” Marlin said. “They’ve got a good group of six or seven guys. They don’t have the depth we have, but they’re a good, solid team.”

The 77-point outing at Miami is the only time this year the Cajuns haven’t scored at least 90 points, and Marlin said his team is far from playing at its offensive peak.

“We’re leading the league in scoring and shooting 28 percent from 3,” he said. “People in the conference are aware that we’re not shooting well and still scoring a lot of points. We’re last in the league in opponents shooting and points allowed, and we’ve got to clean up those things. It’s the same things we talked about in the preseason, and I think we have over the last two days.”

Senior postman Shawn Long had his second straight double-double at Alabama with 25 points and 14 rebounds. He averaged 23.0 and 13.5 while shooting over 50 percent in each of the two power-conference games.

“He played well both places,” Marlin said. “He missed a couple of defensive assignments at Alabama, but he scored the ball and got us off to a good start, and he rebounded well.”

The Cajuns are looking for consistency at other places. Point guards Kasey Shepherd and Jay Wright had 17 and 11 points against the Tide, but the two also combined for 10 of the team’s 15 turnovers, and Wright fouled out in 19 minutes. UL-Lafayette was whistled for 24 fouls and Alabama 30, one week after the Cajuns and Louisiana College were whistled for a combined 59 fouls in a home-opener 108-68 UL-Lafayette win.

No Cajun other than Long played more than 25 minutes against Alabama, with 11 players seeing seven or more minutes. Marlin said the lineup at Alabama of Long and sophomore Bryce Washington (two points) and guards Wright, Hayward Register (eight points, 2-of-10 on 3-pointers) and Johnathan Stove (nine points) will likely have changes Wednesday.

“We’re going to mix it up a little bit,” he said. “I don’t know exactly who we start. It doesn’t matter who’s in the game, it’s just play as hard as you can for as long as you can. We have some guys that haven’t produced like they’re capable, and their minutes are going to be cut.”