LAFAYETTE — With a 12-point advantage and 4 minutes, 19 seconds remaining in the first half against Troy on Saturday night, Louisiana-Lafayette coach Bob Marlin gave the Cajundome crowd what it wanted to see.
Checking in was Elijah McGuire, the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year — in football, of course — for his first action as a Cajuns basketball player.
The fans in attendance immediately started getting loud once they recognized McGuire was in the game, which is precisely what Marlin wanted. But soon McGuire could be more than a simple crowd-pleaser.
“It’s weird. It really is weird,” sophomore forward Bryce Washington said about his first reaction seeing McGuire in something other than football pads. “But he really works hard in practice. He’s really going to surprise you guys soon.”
McGuire, a star running back, joined the Cajuns this week. He did not suit up in their win against South Alabama on Thursday but logged five minutes against Troy. His only official statistic came late in the second half, when he stripped a Troy player of the ball for a steal.
Marlin said McGuire isn’t simply serving as an oddity on the court; he can help the Cajuns defensively. Plus, he has shown his coach the right attitude since joining the team.
“I talked to him after practice (Friday) in the office, we went over some things and he just wants to help us win,” Marlin said. “He said, ‘Coach, hopefully I can defend and get an assist or two here or there, maybe score a basket, just help the team.’ ”
McGuire is going through a bit of a baptism by fire, trying to absorb the Cajuns’ offensive sets, but Washington thinks he’ll be ready to go in that department soon.
“He’s getting used to the plays now,” Washington said. “But I think by Thursday, when we play Texas State, he’s going to be polished and ready with all the plays and you might see his minutes increase.”
Marlin said the Cajuns’ game plan was to go right after Troy’s interior defenders, Jordon Varnado and John Walton III, and that plan couldn’t have been executed much better.
The Cajuns enjoyed a huge advantage inside, outscoring the Trojans 50-36 in the paint, and both Varnado and Walton III fouled out.
Movin’ on up
Saturday’s win against Troy moved the Cajuns (5-3) into a three-way tie for third place in the conference.
Little Rock (7-1) and Texas-Arlington (5-2) are the top teams. Georgia State and Arkansas State are tied with the Cajuns at 5-3. The Red Wolves play the Panthers Thursday in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
The Cajuns’ four-game winning streak is the longest current streak in the conference.
There were 6,064 fans in attendance for Saturday’s game, the most since the Cajuns drew 6,105 against South Alabama on Jan. 17, 2015. ... Junior forward Jay Hedgeman had as many points Saturday (12) as he did in his previous six conference games combined. … Kasey Shepherd had a rare five-point possession when he hit both free throws after a technical foul, then sank a 3-pointer from the corner. … Jay Wright hit 50 percent of his field-goal attempts (4-of-8) against Troy, his first game at or above 50 percent since he went 4-of-7 against McNeese State on Dec. 9.