Contact: Brian McCann
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Troy (11-16, 6-10) at Louisiana (10-17, 6-10) at
Date: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013
Time: 7:00 p.m. CST
Site: Cajundome (11,550), Lafayette, Louisiana
Radio: KPEL (1420 AM) & KHXT (107.9 FM) (Jay Walker)
TV: None Live, Streaming available on the internet via RaginCajuns.com.
Series: Louisiana Leads, 7-5
Last Meeting: Troy 71, Louisiana 52 (2/2/13, Troy, Ala.)
Tickets: $8, $10 & $15
BOB MARLIN (Mississippi State '81)
At Louisiana: 40-48 (3rd year)
4-Year Overall: 265-179 (15th year)
All Collegiate: 388-214 (20th year)
vs. Troy: 2-1
DON MAESTRI (Southern Miss '69)
At Troy: 499-399 (32nd year)
Overall: 499-399 (32nd year)
vs. Louisiana: 5-7
SETTING THE SCENE: With two weeks left in the regular season, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns basketball team continues to work on improving its seed for the upcoming Sun Belt Conference Championship when the Cajuns host Troy on Thursday, Feb. 23 beginning at 7:00 p.m. in the Cajundome. It is the second game of a three-game homestand that will close the 2012-13 home slate. Louisiana (10-17), which has won three straight at home, is in third place in the Sun Belt west division with a 6-10 record, 1.5 games ahead of North Texas (5-12). The Cajuns have games against Troy (6-10), WKU (7-9), UALR (9-7) and ULM (3-13) left to play, each of whom the Cajuns are fighting for a tournament seed against. Troy (11-16, 6-10) has dropped three of its last four decisions and is 2-10 on the road this year. The Trojans claimed the first meeting this year, a 71-52 decision in Troy on Feb. 2. The Cajuns own a 7-5 lead in the all-time series with the teams splitting the six games played in Lafayette.
PREVIEWING LOUISIANA: With a lineup featuring five freshmen and four sophomores, third year head coach Bob Marlin is excited about the possibilities for the 2012-13 season, knowing that the team that took the court in November will grow and improve all season. As the new faces get acclimated to the collegiate game, the Cajuns have leaned heavily on junior Bryant Mbamalu (14.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and sophomore sensation Elfrid Payton (15.2, 5.6, 5.3). Guard Alan-Michael Thompson (7.7 ppg), the lone senior on the squad, is also playing an increased role this year. Freshman forward Shawn Long (15.6 ppg, 10.3 rpg), a transfer from Mississippi State, and power forward Elridge Moore (5.0, 3.8), a JC transfer from Lamar State, unite to form the nucleus of the inside game with freshman Cornell Barnett and walk-on Braylon Lazare providing the depth inside. Although Payton, Mbamalu and Thompson provide the athleticism, quickness and leadership, the freshmen trio of Steven Wronkoski (6.3, 2.8), Kasey Shepherd (3.8) and Josh Soto (3.3) also contribute, giving Louisiana a deep backcourt. Marlin is utilizing the depth and quickness by forcing an up-tempo game at both ends of the court by applying more defensive pressure. Look for the Cajuns to use their quickness and outside shooting ability to create a balanced offense, forcing opponents to cover the entire court.
CAJUNS IN THE NCAA STATS: The Cajuns received several mentions in the NCAA basketball statistics, which were released on Monday (Feb. 18) and included games through Feb. 17. Individually, Shawn Long ranked fifth nationally in double-doubles (15), 12th in rebounds (10.3) and 61st in blocks (2.0) while Elfrid Payton was 15th in steals (2.4) and 42nd in assists (5.3).
PREPPING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP: With four games left in the regular season, the Cajuns are trying to finish on a high note and help their seed in the upcoming Sun Belt Championship, which will be played from March 8-11 in Hot Springs, Ark. with all 11 teams participating. If the season were to end today, Louisiana (6-10) would enter the tourney as the No. 9 seed and face No. 8 Troy (6-10) on Friday, March 8. But the Cajuns have games remaining against Troy (8th), WKU (6th, 7-9), UALR (4th, 9-7) and ULM (11th, 3-13), all teams currently ranked sixth or lower in the league standings with three of the games coming at home.
SUN BELT CONFERENCE TO TELEVISE WKU GAME: Both games of the doubleheader against Western Kentucky on Saturday (Feb. 23) have been selected for the Sun Belt Conference Game of the Week package. The women will face the Hilltoppers at 5:00 p.m. followed by the men's game at 7:30 p.m.
SENIOR NIGHT AHEAD: Saturday's game againt WKU will serve as the annual Senior Night with Alan-Michael Thompson, the lone senior on the squad, being honored in a pre-game ceremony. Thompson has come on strong during the second half of the season, averaging 10.3 points and shooting .484 from the field in league play (46-95) to regain a spot in the starting lineup.
. . . AND SO IS A WHITE OUT: The WKU contest will also feature a White Out in the crowd with fans attending the game being encouraged to wear white. The first 1,000 fans to the game will receive a free t-shirt, courtesy of game sponsor Russell Athletic.
THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE DOME: The win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday extended the Cajuns home win streak to three games and improved the Cajuns to 9-4 at home this year. The victory assured Louisiana of its 18th consecutive winning season in the Cajundome and the 26th in the 28 years since the dome opened for the 1985-86 season. The Cajuns are 267-111 all-time in the Cajundome, including 29-13 (17-7 SBC) in the three seasons under Bob Marlin.
BACK TO THE FUTURE: With Alan-Michael Thompson playing well since Bryant Mbamalu went down with an injury and Mbamalu playing even better, head coach Bob Marlin made a lineup change at South Alabama on Feb. 14, putting Mbamalu back into the lineup and taking freshman Steven Wronkoski out. It is the same lineup that the Cajuns used in games 1, 3 & 4 this year, getting wins over Oakland (90-79) and SUNO (76-66) and dropping a close 63-57 decision at Boise State. The new lineup has resulted in a split of two games with the Cajuns going 3-2 in games it has been used.
BEST AGAINST THE WEST: The oddity of the 2012-13 season for the Cajuns is that they have excelled against the west division and struggled vs. the east. Louisiana enters the week with a 5-1 record against the four west division foes, tops in the Sun Belt, handing losses to both Arkansas State (5-1) and UALR (4-2). The Cajuns final two divisional games come on the road in the final week when UL plays at UALR on Feb. 28 and at ULM on March 2.
. . . AND STRUGGLES AGAINST THE EAST: As well as the Cajuns have played against the west division this season, they have struggled against the east division with Saturday's win over Florida Atlantic snapping a nine-game losing streak against the other half of the Sun Belt. The problems with the east are limited to this season as Louisiana went 4-2 last year against the other division, defeating FIU, Florida Atlantic, Troy and WKU.
TOUGH DECISIONS: One of the best examples of the youth of the Cajuns this season is that Louisiana has not fared well in close games, going 3-9 in games decided by six points or less, including a pair of overtime losses. The wins came at UNT on Dec. 1 (80-76), when they outlasted Arkansas State, 61-56, at home on Jan. 12 and last week's 58-57 win over FAU. For the year, the Cajuns are 1-1 in two-point games, 0-2 in three-point games, 1-0 in four-point games, 1-5 in five-point games and 0-1 in six-point decisions.
. . . AND EASY ONES: The Cajuns have played their best at home this year, winning six of their nine home games by 10 points or more and owning a 13.3 margin of victory in the nine wins.
LONG RANGE SCORING: Bob Marlin said during the preseason that the three-point shot would be more prominent in the offense this year and that forecast has been accurate. The Cajuns enter the week ranked second in the Sun Belt, averaging 6.9 treys per game (187 in 27 games). FIU leads the league with a 7.1 average, making 184 trey in 26 games. The Cajuns made 74 treys in the first 12 games (6.2/game) with no double-figure games but have found their shooting touch of late, averaging 7.5 three-pointers (113 total) over the last 15 contests with five double-figure games. Louisiana has made 187 treys in 27 games this year to surpass the 172 three-pointers it made in 32 games last season.
LONG IS DOUBLE-DOUBLE TROUBLE: An 11-point, 11-rebound effort against ULM on Feb. 10 gave redshirt freshman forward Shawn Long his 15th double-double in 26 games, good for fifth nationally. Bucknell's Mike Muscala holds the national lead with 19 double-doubles while Notre Dame's Jack Cooley and Towson's Jerrelle Benimon are tied for second with 18 and UNC Wilmington's Keith Rendleman is fourth with 16. Long has had a double-double in seven of the last 10 games, giving him eight double-doubles in 16 league games this season.
A TRIPLE-TWENTY: When Elfrid Payton (22 points), Alan-Michael Thompson (22) and Shawn Long (21) each surpassed the 20-point mark against FIU on Jan. 24, it marked the first time since the 2005-06 season that the Cajuns had three players with 20 or more points in a game. That came when Michael Southall (21), Dwayne Mitchell (21) and Ed Turner (20) each surpassed that mark in an 89-77 win over McNeese State on Dec. 22, 2005, 224 games ago.
LONG ENJOYS SWATTING SHOTS: With 53 blocked shots in 27 games this year, Shawn Long ranks fourth in the Sun Belt in blocks. His block total ranks him seventh on the Louisiana single season chart, two short of passing sixth place Reginald Poole (54 in 1995-96). Long's 2.0 blocks per game are fifth-best in school history.
A 20-POINT BARRAGE: One by-product of Louisiana leading the Sun Belt this year in scoring with an average of 70.6 points per game is an increased number of 20 point games by Cajuns individuals. In 32 games last year, six different Cajuns players combined to record nine 20-point performances with Josh Brown (3) being the only player with more than one 20-point game. In 27 games this year, Louisiana players have scored 20 points or more 21 times. Shawn Long leads the way with nine while Elfrid Payton (6), Bryant Mbamalu (5) and Alan-Michael Thompson (1) have also surpassed the mark.
. . . AND A 105-POINT BARRAGE: The 105 points by the Cajuns against North Texas on Jan. 31 was the most points by a Sun Belt team this year. It marked the second time that Louisiana surpassed the 100-point mark in three seasons under Bob Marlin (102 vs. Dillard on Dec. 12, 2011). It was the most points by the Cajuns since UL scored 110 at Western Kentucky on January 29, 2004.
THOMPSON ENJOYS A LONG-RANGE EVENING: Alan-Michael Thompson stepped up to provide the Cajuns with an outside shooting presence against FIU on Jan. 24, setting career highs for three-point field goals made (6) and attempted (16). The 16 three-point attempts was the second-highest single game total in school history, two shy of the school record of 18 set by Brad Boyd vs. Mississippi State on Nov. 23, 2002. The six treys is the most by a Cajun since Boyd had seven at Birmingham-Southern on Dec. 8, 2002. The effort allowed Thompson to equal the most three-point field goals made and attempted in the Sun Belt this season.
THE SCORING TRIO: The Cajun trio of freshman Shawn Long (15.6 ppg), sophomore Elfrid Payton (15.2) and junior Bryant Mbamalu (14.1) have led the Louisiana offense, combining to score 61-percent of the points this season (1,156 of 1,905). Together, they have reached double figures 65 of the possible 77 times this year, including 18 games of 20-points or more. They combined to score a season-best 65 points vs. North Texas on Jan. 31 and previously scored 62 points at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 3), 60 at North Texas on Dec. 1 and 59 vs. South Alabama (Jan. 10). The trio has totaled 50 points or more seven times this year.
. . . THE TRIO FROM A SUN BELT PERSPECTIVE: A look at the most recent Sun Belt statistics shows that the trio of Shawn Long (15.6 ppg), Elfrid Payton (15.2) and Bryant Mbamalu (14.1) rank fourth, sixth and 10th, respectively in league scoring. Florida Atlantic is the only other team that has two players in the top 10 in scoring, but its third-leading scorer ranks 25th. In Sun Belt games only, Payton (16.4), Mbamalu (15.9) and Long (15.1) rank sixth, seventh and ninth, respectively.
THOMPSON FINDS HIS MARK: Alan-Michael Thompson is closing his senior season on a high note offensively, averaging 10.3 points in league play, shooting .484 from the field (46-95). He has found his long-range scoring, going 27-for-68 from three-point (.397) over the last 12 games.
MBAMALU PASSES 700-POINT MARK: With 24 points against ULM on Feb. 10, junior guard Bryant Mbamalu surpassed the 700-point mark for his Louisiana career. Mbamalu has started 63 of his 83 career games, scoring 718 points in 2,059 minutes played.
. . . AND PAYTON IS RIGHT BEHIND HIM: A 15-point performance against ULM on Feb. 10 pushed Elfrid Payton past the 600-point mark for his Cajuns career. Payton has played in 59 games during his two seasons, starting 38, scoring 640 points in 1,676 minutes of action.
. . . AND PAYTON GOES ALL 40: Elfrid Payton has taken on an increased leadership role on the team this year, leading the team and ranking second in the Sun Belt averaging 35.2 minutes per game. Payton added another first against FIU on Jan. 24, playing all 40 minutes for the first time in his collegiate career. Payton, the only Cajun to start every game this year, leads the team with 950 minutes played.
LONG MAINTAINS FRESHMAN REBOUNDING LEAD: With 11 or more rebounds in eight of his last 10 games, Shawn Long has taken over the mantra as the top freshman rebounder in the country this year. Long has grabbed 279 rebounds in 27 games (10.3 rpg) to rank ahead of Easterm Washington's Venky Jois (9.5).
. . . AND LONG CONTINUES TO RANK AMONG THE TOP FRESHMEN: A closer look at the recent NCAA stats shows that besides being the top freshman rebounder in the country this year, Shawn Long also ranks ninth among freshmen in both scoring (15.6) and blocked shots (2.0).
A GREAT WIN: The win over Arkansas State on Jan. 12 is made a little more significant considering that the Cajuns had just nine players dressed in the game, with sophomore Elfrid Payton being the only player to see action who played last season. The victory allowed Louisiana to avenge a 87-70 loss to the Red Wolves in Jonesboro on Dec. 27.
SHEPHERD ENJOYS ROLE CHANGE: Freshman Kasey Shepherd celebrated his first career start against Arkansas State on Jan. 12 by scoring 13 points and setting career highs for rebounds (7) and minutes played (37). He came back to score nine points with five rebounds in his second start at WKU on Jan. 17. In his three starts, he averaged 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds, shooting .429 from three-point (6-14). For the season, Shepherd is averaging 3.5 points in 11.3 minutes a game.
. . . AND HE HAD A GOOD NIGHT AT SOUTH ALABAMA: One of the bright spots in the Feb. 14 loss at South Alabama was the play of Kasey Shepherd, who came off the bench to set a career-high with 16 points. He was five-for-eight from the field and made three of his four three-point attempts in 20 minute of action.
PAYTON MOVES INTO SIXTH ON STEALS LIST: Sophomore Elfrid Payton recorded five steals vs. Florida Atlantic on Saturday to raise his Sun Belt leading steal total to 65, good for 42nd in the nation in the latest NCAA statistics. His effort allowed him to move past Johnny Collins (62 steals in 1982-83) and into sixth place on the Louisiana single season steal list. He is now four steals from passing Aaron Mitchell (1990-91) and Alford Turner (1981-82), who are tied for fourth with 68 steals. Payton, who had 37 steals in 32 games last year, had a career high seven steals at Michigan State on Nov. 25, falling one steal short of the school record, and came back to make four steals vs. Middle Tennessee.
PAYTON PASSES THE CENTURY MARK: The five steals against Florida Atlantic on Feb. 16 allowed sophomore Elfrid Payton to pass the 100 mark for his Cajuns career. Payton, who had 37 steals as a freshman, has 102 steals in his career.
CAJUNS BENEFIT FROM LATE FREE THROW SHOOTING: The free throw shooting by the Cajuns has been at its best late in the game as Louisiana has gone 116-for-160 (.725) from the line in the final 5:00 minutes and overtime. Alan-Michael Thompson (13-14), Shawn Long (17-22) and Steven Wronkoski (14-19) lead the team while Bryant Mbamalu, a career .780 shooter (39-50), is 18-for-21 this year (.857). That is a considerable improvement from the .617 (121-196) that the Cajuns shot during the 2011-12 season.
LONG TRIES TO EQUAL FRESHMAN SCORING FEAT: With a 15.6 scoring average through 27 games and a 0.4 point per game lead ahead of second-leading scorer Elfrid Payton (15.2 ppg), freshman Shawn Long is on pace to become just the fifth freshman to lead the team in scoring. He would join Tim Thompson (14.2 ppg in 1957-58), Jerry Flake (17.6, 1965-66), Andrew Toney (21.0, 1976-77) and Chris Gradnigo (9.6, 2007-08).
. . . AND A SCORING, REBOUNDS & BLOCKS ACCOMPLISHMENT: Shawn Long's impact is more than just being a scorer. Ranking second in the Sun Belt in rebounding (10.1), fourth in scoring (15.6) and blocks (2.0), Long is on pace to become just the third player in school history to lead the team in all three stat categories in a single season. Tyren Johnson was the most recent, averaging 17.9 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 2009-10. Reginald Poole is the other to accomplish it, doing it in both 1996-97 (16.0, 10.3, 1.7) and 1998-99 (14.7, 7.1, 0.9).
IT WAS A LONG TIME COMING: The exhibition win over Loyola-New Orleans marked the Cajuns debut for forward Shawn Long. Long transferred to Louisiana last December after spending the fall semester at Mississippi State. The 6-9 native of Morgan City, La. practiced with the Cajuns during the final three months of the year but was not eligible to play. During the summer, he was granted a waiver of transfer rule that would have made him ineligible until early December, allowing him to play immediately. Eager to make up for the lost season, Long scored 11 of UL's first 18 points against Loyola, finishing the night with 17 points and a game-high eight rebounds, going seven-for-11 from the field with a pair of blocks.
. . . AND LONG SCORES THE BASKETBALL: With at least five games left to play this season, Shawn Long's nine 20-point games remains on a pace to record the most 20-plus point performances by a Cajun since former Sun Belt Player of the Year Tyren Johnson accomplished it 12 times in 2009-10.
WRONKOSKI PROVES MARLIN RIGHT: Bob Marlin said many times during the fall that when he took over as head coach two years ago, one of the first recruits he looked at was Steven Wronkoski, deciding that the current UL freshman's spirited play would be perfect in a Cajun uniform. Wronkoski has yet to prove Marlin wrong, averaging 6.3 points and 2.7 rebounds this year. He posted back-to-back career highs of 12 points vs. SUNO on Nov. 21 and, in his first career start, 16 points at New Mexico State on Nov. 23. His Sun Belt debut was equally as strong as he scored all 13 of his points in the second half against Middle Tennessee on Nov. 29. His current career scoring high is 17 points, set at McNeese State on Dec. 8.
MISTER CAN YOU SPARE A DIME?: Elfrid Payton has shown his continued development as the Cajuns' point guard by handing out 144 assists this year to rank second in the Sun Belt averaging 5.3 assists per game. He set a career high with 10 assists at FIU on Jan. 5 and previously had nine assists in each of the last three games against North Texas.
NEXT UP: Louisiana closes out the home slate with a Senior Night game against Western Kentucky on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 7:30 p.m. It is a doubleheader with the Cajuns women's team hosting WKU at 5:00 p.m. Both games will be televised by the Sun Belt Network.