LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette men’s basketball coach Bob Marlin was not happy with the way star forward Shawn Long played during a loss to Texas State a few weeks ago, and he made that displeasure known publicly and privately.
Perhaps it was no coincidence, then, that Long responded with a monster week in Alabama.
The senior forward torched Troy for 29 points and 20 rebounds and followed that up with a 25-point, 13-rebound game against South Alabama. He was also active as a rim protector, blocking nine shots.
“It’s kind of that time of the year where everybody needs a little push,” Long said. “Coach happened to be my push. He saw something I didn’t and, when he talked to me, what he was saying made sense.”
Before he dominated in Alabama, Long had one of his worst games of the year against Texas State. He fouled out in just 26 minutes and went 2-for-9 from the floor and 3-for-7 from the free-throw line, scoring seven points and grabbing nine rebounds without blocking a shot.
Two days later, Marlin made it clear in his Monday news conference that he needed more out of Long.
“Shawn had one of his worst — if not the worst — games of the year,” Marlin said. “Doesn’t shoot the ball well, didn’t rebound the ball well, didn’t run the floor very well. Because of that, (it) hurt our team from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint.”
After he made that public statement, he said he met with Long privately to address how he wanted him to respond.
“We sat him down Monday after the press conference here before practice, had a long talk with him and he came out and turned it on in the middle of the first half against Troy and didn’t stop all the way through,” Marlin said. “He played extremely well against South Alabama and controlled the game, again, being double- and triple-teamed almost every time he touches the ball.”
Long is the Sun Belt leader in scoring (19.4), rebounding (13.2) and blocks (1.9), and he should be a favorite for Player of the Year honors.
He also, if he plays the way he did against the Alabama schools, could be a catalyst for the Cajuns in next week’s conference tournament.
“If he continues to play the way he’s played the last five out of six games, then we have a chance to win this tournament,” Marlin said, “because he’s the most dominant player in our league.”
Six Cajuns seniors are playing their final scheduled games at the Cajundome this week, with senior day festivities planned for Saturday’s game against Georgia Southern.
Three of those six — Long, Kasey Shepherd and Steve Wronkoski — will be wrapping up four-year careers with the Cajuns.
When asked the difference between the version of himself that walked onto campus as a freshman and the one who will play this week, Shepherd said, “A beard and about 20 pounds.”
They said they haven’t given much thought to what it’s going to be like playing their final home games, but they’ve taken some time to reflect on what they’ve accomplished in four years here.
Long signed with Mississippi State out of Morgan City High School but transferred to the Cajuns before he played a game. That seems to have worked in his favor. He’s the school’s all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots and is in solid position to land in the top three on the school’s all-time scoring list.
“It’s a blessing,” Long said. “Coach gave me an opportunity to play so close to home, and I think I’ve made the best of it. I’ve improved each year, which is something I wanted to do coming here. Coach opened up some things and let me play my game, and for that I’m appreciative.”
Once he was done wise-cracking about his facial follicles, Shepherd sounded similarly appreciative.
“It’s a dream come true to me,” he said. “I pray and thank God every day that a young kid was able to come live his dream of playing college basketball at a really good program and have a pretty successful career. I’m thankful for that.
“I haven’t thought so much about it (being) my last game. It’ll probably hit me some time this week, but I’ve just been trying to reflect and be as grateful as I can for everything I’ve gotten so far.”