University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin wants his players to start making more shots, and wants them to stop their adversaries from making as many.
It sounds simple, but it’s something the Ragin’ Cajuns (2-3) have struggled with through their first five games. Marlin is looking for a reversal of fortune starting at 7 p.m. Wednesday when the Cajuns host in-state rival McNeese State (1-5) at the Cajundome.
UL-Lafayette missed 11 straight shots at one point in its past outing and ended up shooting only 39.1 percent in last week’s 81-70 loss at UL-Monroe in a very early Sun Belt Conference opener. The Cajuns, who had shot at least 46 percent in their first four games, were 2-of-18 from 3-point range in the loss and missed all 10 3-point attempts in the second half.
“We’d shot well in shoot-around at Monroe and didn’t make them in the game,” Marlin said. “Once we start getting some to drop ... we led the league in 3-point shooting last year, so I’m not concerned about that.”
A bigger concern is that a ULM team that was hitting 23 percent outside the arc banged home 9-of-15 against the Cajuns. In UL-Lafayette’s three losses, opponents are 36-of-63 (57.1 percent) from 3-point range.
“They’re just making shots,” Marlin said. “At Monroe, it was shots we wanted them to take. Our goal is to run guys off the 3-point line. But this year, if you guard the dribble, a lot of times there’s a whistle. We’re kind of caught in between, we have to find a way to make guys miss from 3 and make them put it down and take a tough 2.”
The struggling Cowboys would seem ready-made for that. McNeese, whose only win is a 80-79 victory over Dillard on Nov. 25, is shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 31.6 percent outside the arc. Other than junior guard and two-year starter Jamaya Burr, the team’s only double-digit scorer (15.3), the Cowboys are under 29 percent on 3-point attempts and went 5-for-23 in an opening 81-70 loss at LSU.
But most of UL-Lafayette’s foes had been struggling from long range also before they faced the Cajuns. And the Cowboys have started finding the range, making 27-of-66 in their past three games. Burr is 9-of-16 outside the arc in that time and bounced one off the rim at the horn in a 74-73 loss at Central Michigan one week ago in the Cowboys’ most recent outing.
“They can make a lot of shots,” Marlin said of the Cowboys, who took an 80-70 win in Lake Charles last season before UL-Lafayette won seven of its next eight. “Burr’s a good shooter. You’re not going to shut them out there, but we want to limit them to a low number of attempts.”
The Cajuns’ 70-point total at ULM was also a season low. Even with that total, UL-Lafayette is tied for fourth nationally in scoring (90.8) and is averaging 107 points per game in their two Cajundome appearances. The Cajuns, who haven’t had back-to-back 100-point games at home since 1990, rank 10th nationally in fewest turnovers, 19th in rebound margin (+11.4) and 22nd in fewest fouls, all of which Marlin said should add up to a better record.
“We’ve outrebounded every team we’ve played, and we’ve had less turnovers,” he said. “But we’ve taken some bad shots, and we haven’t defended well enough to win a lot of times.”
Senior center Shawn Long (19.0 points per game, 11.2 rebounds) had a streak of three double-doubles snapped at ULM with 10 points and eight rebounds. He remains the nation’s active leader in double-doubles by a wide margin with 55. Junior guard Tyrone Wooten had a team-high 12 points off the bench against the Warhawks.
Wednesday’s game begins a busy stretch for the Cajuns, who are in the middle of final exams for the fall semester. UL-Lafayette heads for Ruston on Saturday to take on Louisiana Tech. The Cajuns depart Monday for a West Coast swing that includes games at UCLA , which knocked off top-ranked Kentucky last week, on Tuesday and Pepperdine on Friday.