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UL forward Tirus Smith (11) goes around Southeastern forward Pape Diop (13) during the Cajuns' 98-81 win over the Lions on Tuesday at the Cajundome.

Tuesday’s 98-81 victory over the Southeastern Lions in the Cajundome gave UL basketball fans their first look at 6-8 junior forward Tirus Smith.

And what an introduction it was.

Much as Ragin’ Cajun coach Bob Marlin had previously described the Jones County Junior College product, Smith contributed in many ways with 11 points and seven rebounds in almost 11 minutes on the court.

After the game, he met the media for the first time and made an even bigger impression.

“He’s always happy, always happy,” teammate Jalen Johnson said of Smith.

“They never see me frowning,” Smith agreed. “Always smiling. I try to bring good energy everywhere I go.”

That approach showed on the court, as well as in the postgame press conference.

It also helped him keep his spirits up during his early-season medical trouble. There was a time not so long again that Smith was forced to miss practice and games with a undisclosed medical condition.

“At one point, we didn’t know if I was going to be play basketball again,” Smith said. “With all the tests that we did and everything that we did, I’m just glad to be back now. I just thank God that I’m here now able to play the game I love.”

Many players looked focused and intense on the court. Smith looks focused, but it’s always with a smile - always seemingly having the time of his life.

“I’ve always played like that,” Smith said. “If you can’t have fun doing it, then why do it?”

Of course, being his first home game, Smith was likely an extra bit giddy in this contest.

“It was really exciting coming into it,” Smith said. “It felt like my first actual Division I again, just the butterflies and just running out with my team.

“Being there with my team and all the struggles it’s been this whole time just getting ready to get back on the court. I’m just blessed and happy to be back.”

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Marlin, for one, wasn’t at all surprised by what Smith provided to the team in the win.

“That’s what we’re going to get with him,” Marlin said. “I told you guys earlier, I was glad our fans were able to see him. He’s our best interior defender, he’s long, he rebounds, he plays hard, he plays strong and he definitely helped us tonight.”

There isn’t much mystery in Johnson’s mind either what Smith can bring the Cajuns this season.

“Energy, happiness, enthusiasm, rebounding, scoring, enthusiasm, energy, happiness,” Johnson laughed. “He’s always happy. I’ve never seen Tirus not happy.

“It’s 30-degree weather and I’ve seen him in shorts. He’s just walking into class smiling.”

With that said, the unknown did leave Smith with some concern about his future.

"Just trying to stay positive through it all," Smith admitted. "It was difficult sometimes. Sometimes it was hard, but I’ve got a good set of teammates, a good set of coaches and I’ve got a great family that helped me get through it all."

Johnson also brought plenty to the table in Tuesday's win as well with 26 points, 10 rebounds and two assists in 33 minutes coming home in style after a rough road trip.

“Coming from Vegas, I felt I didn’t play my best, so I really want to put forth a good foot on my home court,” Johnson said. “Played hard, played smart and really rebounded. I wasn’t worried about the scoring at all.”

Actually, the game couldn’t have started out much worse for the Cajuns (now 5-3). The visiting Lions came out on fire and the Cajuns couldn’t stop turning over the ball.

“Coach Marlin told us they were going to come out ready for us,” Johnson said. “It’s an in-state game and probably one of the biggest games on their schedule. They came out fighting, but we retaliated.”

The aggressive Lions forced 19 turnovers, but also committed 25 personal fouls, resulting in 33 trips to the line for the Cajuns. UL made 25 of them, compared to 13 made free throw for SLU.

“We wanted to keep driving and get to the free throw line,” Marlin said. “They’re a very physical team. They pushed and held a little bit, bumped us around. Because of that, we were able to get to the free throw line and certainly converted.”

Consequently, UL finished the game with five double-figure scorers, including Cedric Russell with 16, Kobe Julien with 12 and P.J. Hardy with 10.

And, of course, Smith walked off the court with the biggest smile of them all.

Email Kevin Foote at kfoote@theadvocate.com.