LAFAYETTE — More than a full month has passed since the Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team lost a game, and even that was a game coach Bob Marlin said he feels his team should have won in a 71-69 loss to Arkansas State.
Thursday night, the Cajuns will get a chance at retribution against Arkansas State in the beginning of a crucial stretch for a team with its eyes fixed on a regular-season Sun Belt Conference title.
This week is especially important. The Red Wolves are one of a group of teams hanging just a game behind the Cajuns in the conference standings. Saturday’s opponent, Little Rock, is the only team ahead of the Cajuns in the SBC. Currently, those two teams are the only teams in the league with the chance of sweeping a season series against the Cajuns.
After those two big home matchups, the Cajuns will depart for a four-game road swing. The Cajuns have won their past three road contests, but started the season 0-8 away from the Cajundome.
“It’s important because we’re going back on the road after this, too,” Marlin said. “We’ll be in the same scenario that we were in earlier in the season. We need to defend our home court, we’ve been good at home, our crowd really helped us win the last game when things weren’t going well in the second half against Monroe.
“We need our crowd, we need to play well at home to keep ourselves in position going into the last month of the season.”
Of course, the reason the Cajuns are in position in the first place is because of their impressive win streak that stands at eight games. All but one of those wins has come by at least nine points.
For the casual observer, it would’ve been hard to imagine the team ripping off that sort of prolonged success after watching it lose its handle on a double-digit lead against Arkansas State in early January.
In that game, the Red Wolves took their first lead of the second half with a hair less than eight seconds remaining in a game the Cajuns led by as many as 13 points. It was a disappointing finish that dropped the Cajuns’ record to 5-8.
Frustrated as he was with the outcome, Marlin left that game feeling that his team was about to turn the corner. He said as much in his weekly news conference a few days later, and it has proven to be true.
“It was a tough loss,” Marlin said. “We should’ve won that game. We had outplayed them, and that’s why I was positive and felt good going into the next week before the Georgia trip.”
And even an eight-game winning streak since hasn’t caused his team to forget what it felt like the last time it lost.
“They remember,” Marlin said. “I think it’s inspired them. Going back and reflecting on that game can only help us at this stage.”
Perhaps nobody in the conference has played more inspired basketball than Cajuns star forward Shawn Long, especially since he missed a potential game-winning shot in that Arkansas State loss.
Long has reeled in double-doubles in seven of the Cajuns eight straight wins, and has averaged 20.6 points and 13.8 rebounds per game during that stretch.
With Long turning in his nightly excellence, the rest of the Cajuns team has kicked it into another gear as well. The team is shooting more than 10 percent better from 3-point range (37.8 percent) during the streak than it was before the streak started (27.2).
Defensively, the Cajuns have limited opponents to 67 points per game during the win streak, more than 10 points better than what teams were scoring on them before the streak started (77.5 points per game).
The statistics say that Arkansas State will face a different Cajuns team than the one it saw in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a little more than a month ago. With this crucial stretch coming up, the Cajuns hope that continues to be the case.
“We expect a really good game out of those guys (Thursday) — they’re a game behind us in the standings,” Marlin said. “We look forward to going out and competing against them.”