Quick-learning newcomers give Ragin’ Cajuns a boost _lowres

UL-Lafayette forward Brian Williams (31) shoots over Jackson State players Jonathon Thomas (23) and Marcus Love (24) during their game at the Cajundome Wednesday Dec. 3,2014 Photo by Brad Kemp/RaginCajuns.com

LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette men’s basketball team isn’t concerning itself with the fact that Texas State enters Thursday’s contest as losers of eight of its past nine games.

At this point in the season, the Cajuns (14-12, 8-7) are focused strictly on what they can control, not about what games they should win — though the Bobcats (11-13, 5-10) surely have the look of a team that resides in the “should win” category.

“We need to get on a roll at this time,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “We’ve got five (games) left, and we’ve got to string some wins together going into the conference tournament.

“It’s all right in front of us.”

The Cajuns are a half-game back of UT-Arlington, which they will face Saturday night on the road, in the Sun Belt Conference standings. They also have a game remaining against the SBC’s second-place squad, Georgia Southern.

An undefeated week would set the Cajuns up nicely for a top-four seed in the SBC tournament next month.

“It’s a crucial game,” Marlin said. “We’re fighting Arlington for that spot, and we need to beat them head-to-head.”

But Marlin knows he needs to get a better, more-consistent effort from his team if it is going to reel off a big win streak in the final weeks of the season.

The Cajuns surrendered a second-half lead in each of the past six games, including a few in which they led by double digits.

They were able to pull off a win on half of those occasions, but Marlin is growing weary of seeing his team fade after a strong start, especially in games at home. The Cajuns were outscored by 19 points in their last home contest against UT-Arlington.

“We need to come out and prove that we can play a 40-minute game at home,” Marlin said.

The Bobcats were one of those six teams to make a second-half run on the Cajuns. In their last meeting, the Cajuns saw a 16-point lead turn into a two-point deficit over a six-minute span in the second half against Texas State.

The Cajuns closed strong, outscoring Texas State 14-1 over the final 4:38 to win the game, but they seem to understand they can’t play with fire again with the Bobcats.

“It’s going to be an all-around effort to try to stop those guys,” senior forward Brian Williams, a former Glen Oaks star, said. “We’ve got to put the ball in the hole, we can’t have one of those cold shooting nights that we’ve been having here lately.”

The Bobcats are led by 6-foot-8 forward Emani Gant, who leads the team in scoring (13.7 points per game) and rebounds (6.9 rebounds per game). Gant had 16 points and eight rebounds before fouling out against the Cajuns the last time they played.

The Cajuns could use another effort from point guard Jay Wright like the one he put together the last time against Texas State, when he handed out 10 assists to just one turnover.

“I did my job that game,” Wright said. “I’ve got to step up and do that every game.”

Mostly, the Cajuns just want to close the season on a strong note. Marlin has dabbled with a variety of different lineups recently, and with time running short on the 2014-15 season, Williams hopes the team can find one that clicks.

“We’ve got to play to win, not play not to lose,” Williams said. “We’re trying to find the right mix of guys that are about winning, and we’ve got a lot of them.”