The lights went out on Little Rock’s chances of an undefeated Sun Belt Conference season at the Cajundome on Friday with the UL Ragin’ Cajuns walking away with a 66-64 victory over the Trojans.
During Little Rock’s final possession that began with 14 seconds left, the arena’s lights went dim with five seconds remaining.
The Trojans completed the play with Ruot Monyyong’s jumper at the top of the key at the buzzer going off the rim. Immediately after the buzzer sounded, Little Rock coach Darrell Walker and various players began complaining to the officials that the clock should have been stopped when the lights were dimmed before coming back on for the final shot.
The officials quickly declared the game over and Walker had to be restrained by arena officials and police officer during his heated debate with the officials while exiting the court.
“Honestly, when it happened, I was just kept playing – the whistle wasn’t blown and the clock was still running,” UL center Theo Akwuba said. “We had to make sure they didn’t get up a 3 to win the game.
“I think the biggest part was staying locked in through the unfortunate event.”
The Sun Belt Conference later said the play should have been stopped the second the lights went out.
"Play should have been immediately stopped when an issue with the area lighting occurred. The crew should have awarded Little Rock the ball out of bounds with five seconds on the clock to complete the last sequence," the Sun Belt Conference said in a release.
The Cajuns improved to 8-2 overall and 2-1 in Sun Belt play, while Little Rock dropped to 6-4 and 2-1.
“Not that I can remember,” UL coach Bob Marlin in his experience. “Our coaches – Josten Crow and Anthony Goldwire – said it happens all the time in overseas. The lights would go completely out. At the end of the day, coach Walker is a good friend and a good coach. He’s a competitor. He felt like it made a difference. But if the ball would have gone in, it would have been the same thing.
“The regular lights were on when he missed the last shot. Like I said, if they make the shot, they’re not complaining.”
Akwuba finished the game with a double-double – 12 points and 13 rebounds in 21 minutes of play. The Cajuns also got 12 points behind a trio of 3-pointers from Cedric Russell.
Also in double figures for UL was Isaiah Richards with 10 points, nine rebounds, an assist and three blocked shots in 18 minutes.
“He did a good job,” Marlin said of Richards. “He’s been practicing well, really working at it. He’s so excited to win – great team guy. He’s trying to help Theo and the other guys as well during every timeout. He was big tonight.”
Mylik Wilson added 10 points, two assist and three steals to the win and Brayan Au had his best game as a Cajun with nine points, four rebounds, four assists, a block and a steal in 32 minutes.
“To me, I thought we played better tonight,” Marlin said. “I thought we deserved to win the game. We got three stops to start the game and we got three stops to finish the game.”
Little Rock was led by Nikola Maric with 18 points in 21 minutes before fouling out, and Monyyong with 17 points, 12 rebounds and two assists.
The game was about as even as could be in the first half and things didn’t really change in the second half. Little Rock led 22-12 in points in the paint and consequently shot 46.7 percent from the field compared to 32.4 for the Cajuns.
But the Cajuns outrebounded the Trojans 22-17 and outscored Little Rock six combined behind the arc and at the line.
“The one thing about them pounding it inside to Maric, (Kris) Bankston and Monyyong is that Coupet is the leading scorer in the league at 26.5 and he makes one basket,” Marlin said. “(Markquis) Nowell, their leading scorer overall, makes one basket.”
The largest lead by either team was four by the Cajuns at 18-14 with 11:37. The Cajuns had eight turnovers in the first half, compared to six for Little Rock.
The seesaw battle continued into the second half. Different Cajuns took turns making runs. First, there was a six-point Wilson run for a 42-40 lead at 13:23. Then freshman forward Isaiah Richards had a four-point run for a 46-44 lead at 11:25.
Finally, a Ty Harper five-point run gave UL the largest lead by either team at 51-46 with 10:20 left to play.
That only lasted about 20 seconds when Marko Andric’s 3-pointer got it close again and the seesaw battle continued until the end.
The Cajuns got two big breaks down the stretch. One was Maric fouling out with 18 points with 6:20 left and the Cajuns leading 58-57 at the time.
Then with 4:59 left, Monyyong got his fourth foul. For the next three minutes, the Trojans only scored two points, but the Cajuns still weren’t able to pull away until the unusual finish.
Now the Cajuns must figure out a way to pull off a sweep against the preseason Sun Belt favorites.
“Really, it’s going to take mental focus and mental toughness,” Russell said. “Physically, it’s going to be tough for both teams. I just feel like the more mentally tougher team is going to pull it out.”
UL’s focus was certainly better in this one, limiting its turnovers to 13 and outrebounding Little Rock 40-30.
“It’s a big game,” Marlin said. “I think a lot of eyes in the conference were on this game tonight and will be again tomorrow night. All I know is we’re 2-1 and tied for the lead in the West and that’s what’s important to us. We beat a good basketball team in a game that we needed to come out and play well and we did.”