LAFAYETTE — Their debut effort was sloppy at times, but the result was pretty in the Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball team’s season-opening 85-57 win against Louisiana College on Friday night in the Cajundome.
The Cajuns (1-0) allowed the Wildcats (0-1) to stay within striking distance into the second half thanks to some carelessness with the ball and an off night at the free throw line. Coach Bob Marlin said a lackluster practice effort the day before carried into the game.
“We did not have our best practice yesterday, and it showed today,” Marlin said.
The Cajuns finished with 21 turnovers, and they made just 19 of their 34 attempts from the free-throw line. But those factors didn’t hurt as much as they could’ve considering the way the Cajuns shot the ball.
The Cajuns shot better from the field (56.4 percent) than they did from the free-throw line (55.9 percent), thanks to an offense that attacked the rim most of the evening. The Cajuns shot nearly 60 percent in the second half as they finished the game on a 39-15 run.
Junior-college transfer Devonta Walker was the main weapon for the Cajuns offensively, scoring a game-high 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
“Coach just told us to run the floor,” Walker said. “If we did that, it would be a lot easier.”
Walker scored the first six points for the Cajuns out of halftime and kept the pressure on for the remainder of the second half. Sixteen of Walker’s 20 came in the second period.
“He’s practiced well all year,” Marlin said. “He normally dunks a lot of those balls that he laid in tonight. … He ran the floor well and gave us some energy during that stretch.”
It was a balanced scoring effort beyond Walker as 12 different Cajuns scored. Fellow newcomers Brian Williams and Johnathan Stove each pitched in 11 points to give the Cajuns three players in double digits.
Junior forward Shawn Long, who was questionable coming into the game while recovering from a bone bruise, started but never got going as he ran into foul trouble. Long finished with eight points and six rebounds.
Long didn’t practice much leading into the game, but Marlin wasn’t using that as an excuse for his star player.
“He’s got to play better, and he will,” Marlin said.
The Cajuns looked like they were going to run away with the game early, when a Shawn Long layup capped a 9-2 run to put the Cajuns ahead 24-12 with 9:10 remaining in the first half.
Up until that point, the Cajuns were able to overcome their turnovers by making their possessions count, hitting on nine of their first 15 shots from the floor. But then their shooting touch went cold, and the Wildcats started heating up.
Over the next seven and a half minutes, Louisiana College went on a 16-5 run to cut the Cajuns lead to just one point with 1:31 remaining in the first half.
As the Wildcats shots were dropping, the Cajuns kept getting to the line, but they couldn’t get their free throws to drop, connecting on only 10 of 18 from the charity stripe in the first half.
Stove, a freshman out of Christian Life Academy, closed the first half strong for the Cajuns with five quick points in the final minute to push the home team to a 35-28 halftime lead.
“Johnathan Stove had his best practice of the year yesterday, and I thought he played well tonight,” Marlin said. “It’s funny how those two are closely related.”
Junior-college transfer Jay Wright got the start at point guard and scored six points with six assists in 17 minutes. Marlin said his starter at the point would continue to be a fluid situation as the season goes on.
The Cajuns hit the road for the rest of November, with their next game coming Monday at Tulsa.