The ease at which UL-Lafayette’s basketball opponents are scoring in abundance would be almost comical, if it wasn’t so disturbing to the Ragin’ Cajuns faithful.
Bob Marlin’s not laughing, and he didn’t hold much back Wednesday night after the Cajuns watched yet another Sun Belt Conference foe post a set of season-high numbers.
“Defensively we’ve struggled,” Marlin said after UL-Lafayette fell to Georgia Southern 103-86 at home. “The guys are trying really hard, but I’ve been a head coach for 25 years and statistically it’s not even close. It’s the worst defensive team I’ve coached.”
Things don’t get easier Friday, with the Cajuns (13-10, 4-6) carrying a three-game losing streak into an ESPN2-televised meeting with Sun Belt leader Georgia State (16-7, 7-3). Those two teams split last year’s Sun Belt honors, UL-Lafayette winning the regular season and the Panthers taking the tournament title, and received the league’s national prime-time slot for this year.
That was before the Cajuns went into a defensive slump. UL-Lafayette held a 7-3 record at mid-December, with road losses to top-three-ranked Tennessee and Kansas. Since that time, seven of 13 opponents have shot over 50 percent from the field, and each of the past six opponents has shot 48.3 percent or better.
One week ago, an Appalachian State team that lost its first six Sun Belt games shot a season-high from the floor in a 104-77 win against the Cajuns. Two days later, Coastal Carolina shot 57.9 percent from the field and over 56 percent outside the three-point arc (13-23) in a 96-79 win.
Things then got worse Wednesday when UL-Lafayette returned to the Cajundome and promptly got run off their home floor by a Georgia Southern team that ranked 11th in the Sun Belt in three-point accuracy. The Eagles hit 10-of-15 outside the arc (66.7 percent) and made five of their first six 3-pointers in the second half after exploding to a 51-38 halftime advantage.
Entering the week, the Eagles were a 31 percent 3-point shooting team and had gone 5-of-21, 3-of-14 and 5-of-19 outside the arc in their past three games. On Wednesday, Tookie Brown and Quan Jackson combined to hit 7-of-9 from long range on the way to a combined 55 points.
“I thought at halftime we couldn’t be any worse defensively, but we were in the second half,” Marlin said. “It’s been the story of our conference season. We give up too many threes. They just jumped up and hit them tonight.”
UL-Lafayette’s last six opponents are averaging 94.5 points per game. The last three are at triple digits (101.0) per outing.
The defensive lapses have been compounded by slow starts on the offensive end. UL-Lafayette trailed 17-0 at App State one week ago and was down 31-14 to Georgia Southern on Wednesday. Even when the Cajuns kept it close for more than a half at Coastal, they never led after the opening minutes.
In their past three games, a team that has led the Sun Belt in point production six years running has been ahead on the scoreboard for a total of 89 seconds. The Cajuns were 12-of-31 from the floor and 4-of-15 outside the arc in Wednesday’s first half, and also were outrebounded 41-29.
“Most teams are playing their best games against us,” Marlin said, “after us winning the championship last year and winning 27 games. People are going to come at you. They (Georgia Southern) played well, we got in trouble early. We wanted to throw the ball in the post and play inside out and drive the ball, but we didn’t make them when we needed to.”
Six of UL-Lafayette’s past seven losses have come by double-figure margins, including an 89-76 loss at Georgia State back on Jan. 10 in their first meeting. That game followed a familiar story line — the Panthers shot 52.5 from the field and 52.0 from the arc while the Cajuns were at 40.9 and 25.8.
Georgia State held sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt before falling 82-76 at UL-Monroe Wednesday, falling back into a standings pack that includes eight teams with between three and five Sun Belt losses. That pack doesn’t include the Cajuns, who are now looking at an uphill climb for favored seeding in the Sun Belt tournament in four weeks.
“We just need to play well,” Marlin said. “We’ve got the number one team in the league at home, but it doesn’t matter where you play them. We’ll get Georgia State’s best shot also. We’ve got a couple of long faces in that locker room, and we have to put this last one behind us.”
GEORGIA STATE (16-7, 7-3) at UL-LAFAYETTE (13-10, 4-6)
WHEN: Friday, 8 p.m.
WHERE: Cajundome, Lafayette
RADIO: KHXT-FM 107.9, KPEL-AM 1420