With Louisiana-Lafayette’s basketball team in need of a bounce-back effort after losing for the first time in Sun Belt Conference play Thursday, the Ragin’ Cajuns turned to their three senior leaders.
Johnathan Stove, Frank Bartley and Bryce Washington more than delivered, and because of that — and a little help from UL-Monroe — the Cajuns are back in control of the league race with a 102-91 shootout win over Georgia Southern at Hanner Fieldhouse.
Stove had a career-high 28 points and Bartley had 13 first-half points in helping UL-Lafayette build a 14-point halftime lead, and Washington had his 10th double-double of the season.
That trio combined for 67 points, 25 rebounds and 23-of-38 shooting as the Cajuns (21-4, 11-1) responded impressively after falling 106-92 at Georgia State on Thursday, a loss that snapped a 16-game win streak in Sun Belt regular-season play.
“We wanted to challenge our guys,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “State pushed us around a little bit, and we certainly aren’t used to that. We came out with some energy today.”
The Cajuns led by as many as 21 points on two occasions in the final nine minutes and withstood a furious rally by Georgia Southern (16-10, 7-6) to take their 11th double-digit win in 12 conference games.
More importantly, UL-Lafayette picked up a full game in the league standings when Georgia State was upset by UL-Monroe 90-82 in overtime earlier Saturday. The Cajuns lead GSU (10-3) by two games in the loss column with six to play and will play four of their final six games at home.
“We’re coming home with the same lead as we left with,” Marlin said of the split on the Georgia swing. “But we still have a tough road ahead of us. We’re still going to get everybody’s best shot the rest of the way, just like I think we got Georgia Southern’s today.”
The Cajuns shot 51.5 percent from the field (35 of 68) and outscored the Eagles’ bench 42-19, most of that courtesy of Stove scoring his 28 points in 22 minutes off the bench. A more important number for the Cajuns was a huge 52-28 rebounding advantage, their biggest edge of the season, after Georgia State — which ranked last in the Sun Belt in rebounding entering the week — had won the battle of the boards 43-33 on Thursday.
“We told our guys that just wasn’t good enough,” Marlin said. “Today we had 19 offensive rebounds, and that was big for us. Johnathan gave us great energy when he came in early for Malik (Marquetti). He was just strong throughout, he made play after play and made smart plays down the stretch.”
Stove hit 10 of 14 field goals and 7 of 8 free throws, and he scored three straight baskets in less than 90 seconds late in the game to help the Cajuns hold off the Eagles, who had cut the difference to nine points with 2:02 left. The third of those, a layup with 2:49 showing, made the senior from Baton Rouge the 46th player in Cajun history to score 1,000 career points.
Bartley finished with 21 points for his third straight 20-point-plus game, and Washington had 18 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 6 against Coastal Carolina. Marquetti added 13 points, including three 3-pointers.
Georgia Southern's Tookie Spann, the Sun Belt’s third-leading scorer in conference play (20.6), had one first-half point and didn’t have a field goal until 9:17 remained. But the junior heated up in a hurry and finished with 29 points before fouling out in the closing seconds, single-handedly keeping the Eagles within striking distance in the final six minutes.
Bartley’s first 3-pointer gave UL-Lafayette a 30-23 lead 8:53 before halftime, but Georgia Southern scored 10 straight points and two Ike Smith free throws put the Eagles up 33-30 less than two minutes later. The game was still tied at 36 before the Cajuns went on a 16-4 run over the final five minutes of the half, and 3-pointers by Cedric Russell and Marquetti in the final minute provided a 52-38 lead at intermission.
An 11-0 run early in the second half that included two baskets each from Bartley and JaKeenan Gant put UL-Lafayette up 68-48 with 12:22 left, and the Cajuns led by double figures until the final two minutes.