Ragin’ Cajuns land spot in CollegeInsider.com tournament, will travel to Incarnate Word _lowres

Advocate file photo by ANGELA MAJOR -- UL-Lafayette forward Shawn Long

LAFAYETTE — Nursing a three-point lead with a little more than a minute left, University of Louisiana at Lafayette guard Kasey Shepherd wasn’t thinking about his off shooting night in the first 39 minutes against Georgia Southern when he got the ball with a good look at the basket.

Shepherd, who missed four of his five 3-point attempts to that point, sunk a dagger that put the Cajuns (17-12, 11-7) ahead by six with 1:07 to go in the game against Georgia Southern (20-7, 13-5).

“I felt like I owed my team one, I felt like I was owed one for the ones I was missing,” Shepherd said. “I’m just glad we got it, I’m glad I was able to help the team.”

He then pulled down a crucial defensive rebound — something that was a bit of a challenge for the Cajuns in the second half Saturday — and sank a pair of free throws on the other end to help lock up a 68-58 win against the Sun Belt Conference’s top team.

Shepherd’s strong play at the end combined with a standout performance from guard Jay Wright — who tied a career-high with 20 points — extended the Cajuns’ winning streak to four games with two games remaining in the regular season.

“This does give us a lot of confidence that we can go out and beat anybody on any night,” Shepherd said.

As is getting more and more common, the Cajuns got it done on the defensive end Saturday night. They held the Eagles to just 25.7 percent shooting in the second half, limiting Georgia Southern to nine field goals in the final 20 minutes.

They did an especially good job on point guard Jelani Hewitt in the final period.

Hewitt shot only 2-for-10 from the floor in the second half, including an 0-for-6 performance from the 3-point line.

But Georgia Southern was able to stay in it thanks to its performance on the offensive glass.

The Eagles hauled in 10 offensive boards in the second half alone, fueling a huge 23-9 disparity in second-chance points that kept the game close despite the Eagles’ shooting struggles.

The Cajuns led by as many as 11 points in the first half, as they jumped out to a big early lead by drilling five early 3-pointers.

Wright, who averaged nearly 15 points per game in the three prior wins, set the tone for the Cajuns fast start.

“That’s my goal,” Wright said of igniting his team.

“That helps us get a head start, they see me working and going hard, that makes them want to go hard.”

He scored the game’s first five points, and was lethally efficient from behind the 3-point arc, where he drained his first three attempts.

Wright led all scorers at the halftime break with 13 points, and he also chipped in a pair of rebounds and assists.

Wright also defensively harrassed opposing point guard Jelani Hewitt, the focal point of Georgia Southern’s offense, while fighting through constant screening from Eagles big men.

“What a game he had, he was the difference in the game,” said coach Bob Marlin.

Playing solid defense and hitting their shots, the Cajuns took a 27-16 lead on a Wright jumper with seven minutes and change left in the first half. But the Eagles closed the half on a 17-7 run to cut the deficit to one by halftime.

Things got chippy at times on the court, as players from both teams made gestures toward the other team’s bench after knocking down big shots.

When asked after the game if this win felt personal, Shepherd said, “I thought so.”

“Especially after the way we lost to them last time,” Shepherd said. “They were talking a little trash after they beat us, and they were all excited. I think that stuck with us, and we were able to pay them back today.”