UL-Lafayette’s basketball team is getting accustomed to huge performances from JaKeenan Gant, after his three dominating performances in the past eight days kept the Ragin’ Cajuns in the Sun Belt Conference race.
With the outstanding becoming commonplace for the 6-foot-8 senior, his Saturday effort came as no surprise, and was almost expected considering Gant was playing only a half-hour from his Springfield, Georgia, hometown.
Gant’s numbers in Saturday’s 87-85 road win at Georgia Southern — 22 points, 12 rebounds for a third straight double-double, a career-high five assists and five blocks — were actually down scoring-wise from his previous two games when he tallied 45 and 36 points against Little Rock and league favorite Georgia State.
In several ways, though, Saturday’s effort may have been the best in that streak, and the most important since UL-Lafayette picked up a key early road win.
“I’m so proud of what he’s done,” Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said. “For him to come home and play like he did. I only wish there had been more time on the clock at the end so I could have taken him out and let him have a senior moment at home.”
Gant was otherwise occupied in the closing seconds, blocking a shot by Georgia Southern’s Tookie Brown with 4 seconds left and the Cajuns holding onto a three-point lead. He also made two free throws and had two defensive rebounds in the final 1:16, the free throws snapping an 80-80 tie and the rebounds coming in the ensuing 20 seconds after the Eagles missed 3-pointers.
That all came after Gant’s 16-point first half, all of them coming in the final 13:45 before halftime and helping the Cajuns (11-6, 2-2) rally from an early deficit and take a 44-35 halftime edge. That lead ballooned to 17 points in the second half’s first three minutes before the Eagles rallied in the final minutes.
“They’d won five games where they’ve trailed by double figures this year, including against Monroe on Thursday,” Marlin said. “So we knew they were going to make a push, drive at us and get back into it.”
In that second half, the Eagles used switching defenses to take Gant out of the picture, limiting him to only five shots and six points after halftime. That was similar to what UL-Lafayette did in the first half, when Marlin said his team’s defense forced Georgia Southern (10-7, 2-2) into uncomfortable offensive sets.
“In the first half,we changed defenses and made them shoot a bunch of 3s (3-pointers), and they’re not good at that,” Marlin said after the Eagles finished 6-of-28 outside the arc. “And we made ours today.”
The Cajuns had gone 8-of-31 on Thursday from 3-point range in their 89-76 loss at Georgia State. Gant was 2-for-4 outside the arc in both games, giving him an 8-of-13 mark (61.5 percent) in his past three games.
His other numbers have been even more impressive. Along with leading the Sun Belt in scoring (30.0), rebounding (10.0) and field goal percentage (63.4) in conference games, Gant has scored 103 points — a 34.3 average — and shot 64.4 percent from the floor (38 of 59) in the past three games. He’s also made 19 straight free throws in that stretch to go with six assists, six blocks and only three turnovers, including none Saturday.
The Cajuns, who play only once this week when they travel to face state rival UL-Monroe on Saturday, needed big efforts against the Eagles since they were again short-handed. Compouding the loss of Malik Marquetti for the season with a torn ACL just before league play, freshman backup point guard Trajan Wesley missed most of the past three games with an ankle injury and senior point Marcus Stroman was saddled with foul trouble and picked up his fourth personal with 14:35 left.
All five Cajun starters scored at least nine points, Justin Miller matched Gant’s performances with 12 rebounds and five assists and Jerekius Davis came off the bench to hit 7-of-9 shots including three 3-pointers in a 17-point effort.
“That was the perfect example of a total team effort,” Marlin said. “When Marcus picked up his fourth and had to come out it changed the game and their guards got more aggressive. But our guys fought and didn’t break.”
UL-LAFAYETTE (11-6, 2-2) at UL-MONROE (9-7, 2-2)
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Fant-Ewing Coliseum, Monroe
RADIO: KHXT-FM 107.9