No lead is safe for UL’s basketball opponents of late.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, who continue their three-game Sun Belt Conference road trip Thursday against rival Georgia State, have recorded four rallies from double-digit deficits in their seven victories. The injury-wracked Cajuns have trailed in each of those wins, often by significant margins.
The biggest of those comebacks came Monday night, when UL (7-9, 2-3) watched Appalachian State put on a 3-point shooting exhibition in the first half and build a 36-21 lead with 7:44 left. The Cajuns still trailed 46-39 at halftime before outscoring the Mountaineers 42-27 in the second half on the way to an 81-73 victory.
“Our guys are just picking each other up,” said Cajuns coach Bob Marlin, who can move into fourth place in Sun Belt history for league wins (now 103) with a victory Thursday. “It’s not one thing you can point at, but we have come out a lot of times and played better defense and rebounded the ball better in the second half.
“It’s easy to drop your head when things don’t go well, but we’ve had some guys who have stepped it up and I’m proud of the way they hung together and made it work. We’re getting better.”
Monday’s comeback was the second in as many games. The Cajuns were down 10 midway through the first half at home to Troy this past Saturday, and were still trailing 42-37 at intermission before blitzing the Trojans 42-20 in the second half of a 79-62 win that snapped a six-game losing streak.
The 15-point rally was the second-largest the Cajuns have had in Marlin’s tenure, dating back to 2010.
“We just keep playing,” said junior guard Cedric Russell, whose nine points Monday snapped a streak of eight straight double-figure games. “I keep telling all our guys that it’s just another game and to go out and make plays and make shots. That’s all we need to do.”
Inconsistent play might have been expected early in the season when the Cajuns had to replace more than 73% of their scoring from the 2018-19 season and returned only one of their top six scorers. During a 5-3 start, UL trailed McNeese 29-16 late in the first half before winning 85-80, and fell behind Southeastern 31-17 in the first 11 minutes before taking a 98-81 victory.
Those came before injuries mounted up. The Cajuns, who lost highly-regarded signees Durey Cadwell and Javonne Lowery to preseason knee injuries, saw redshirt freshman Kobe Julien (12.8, 5.5) go out for the year with a knee injury after eight games, senior P. J. Hardy (6.9 last season) has missed three straight games with an ankle injury and sophomore point guard Trajan Wesley (5.6, 4.5 assists) is still sidelined with a concussion.
Even with all those absences, UL has outscored its last two opponents 84-47 in the second half. In their last three victories, the second-half margin has been 139-86, and in the seven wins the Cajuns have a huge 337-240 advantage over the final 20 minutes.
“It’s not like we’ve come out and not played well early,” Marlin said. “We’ve had some stretches where we haven’t scored the way we’d like and sometimes we haven’t done a good job in transition, but we’ve managed to get all that fixed the last couple of games.”
Georgia State (10-6, 3-2) had won nine of 10 games going into last weekend but faced a similar road gauntlet as that currently facing the Cajuns. After winning 69-60 at Appalachian State a week ago, the Panthers fell at Coastal Carolina 74-72 on Saturday and at Arkansas State 90-87 on Monday.
In a good sign for the comeback-minded Cajuns, Georgia State led in both of those losses by significant margins, including a 14-point 55-41 advantage early in the second half against the Red Wolves. But the Panthers are 6-0 at home under first-year coach Rob Lanier, and have four players averaging in double figures led by junior guards Corey Allen (14.4) and Kane Williams (13.5).
The Cajuns also enter Thursday with four double-digit scorers led by the 14.3 points of Jalen Johnson, who came back from a Saturday shutout with 13 points at App State. Freshman Mylik Wilson had a career-high 30 in that win and is averaging 20 per game over his last four outings.