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Men’s Basketball: Cajun season ends with CIT quarterfinal-round loss

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 23, 2016


Irvine vs UL Ragin Cajuns                        March 23, 2016

UL guard Kasey Shepherd (5) goes up for a lefthanded layup in traffic during the Cajuns’ 67-66 loss to UC Irvine on Wednesday at the Cajundome.(Photo: Buddy Delahoussaye/Special to the Advertiser)


With 2.3 seconds remaining in what turned out to be the UL basketball team’s season, the plan called for point guard Jay Wright to get the ball to senior guard Kasey Shepherd for a game-winning shot.

But when Shepherd broke early and was covered, Wright instead in-bounded to another option on the play drawn up by Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin — Shawn Long, UL’s No. 3 all-time scorer, leading rebounder and leading shot-blocker.

Long got an off-balance shot from just inside the circle and missed the mark wide right, giving Cal-Irvine a 67-66 win Wednesday night at the Cajundome in a quarterfinal-round CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) game.

With the Cajuns looking for a foul to be called but not getting it on the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year’s final shot of his storied career, their 2015-16 run ended at 19-15 with a second straight loss in the CIT quarters.

“We got Shawn, and he tried his hardest to give us a bucket,” Wright said. “I thought we had (gotten) fouled, but it didn’t happen.”

UL came from 16 down during an opening half in which it shot just 28.6 percent from the field, and — despite trailing by 15 early in the second half — it took a two-point lead on a left-corner 3-pointer by Shepherd with just more than six minutes remaining.

“They got off to a great start, and we were just sluggish,” UL’s Johnathan Stove said. “It was like we didn’t want to be there at first.

“Coach Marlin called a timeout, and he got on all five of the starters. He felt like we weren’t doing or part, or something.”

After UL rallied, UC Irvine — playing without injured 7-foot-6, 300-pound starting center Mamadou Ndiaye — took the lead for good one minute later with a Jaron Martin jumper that made it 61-59.

The 29-9 Anteaters from the Big West Conference — top-ranked team in the CIT, according to KenPom ratings — held a lead until Wright’s baseline jumper put UL 66-65 with 23 seconds left.

UL forward Shawn Long (21)  reacts to being fouled

UL forward Shawn Long (21) reacts to being fouled during Wednesday’s 67-66 home loss to UC Irvine at the Cajundome. (Photo: Buddy Delahoussaye/Special to the Advertiser)

UL had two fouls to give on UCI’s ensuing possession, and Stove used one at halfcourt.

The Cajuns never did utilize the second, however, and instead 6-10 big man Mike Best drove on Bryce Washington with a spin move and — despite Long going for a block from the backside — got a short shot to fall with the help of one rather hospitable Cajudome rim.

“As long as (Luke Nelson) and (Alex Young, who scored a game-high 21) didn’t take the shot, we were perfect,” Stove said. “That was what we wanted. But the guy got a lucky bounce, and it just went in.”

Not what UL had in mind.

“Bryce made him fade away, which was great defense,” Stove said. “Shawn came over the top to block the shot, which was even better.

“So we were thinking, ‘Bounce, go get the board, get the board, get the board, bounce, bounce, bounce.’ … And it dropped in.”

And with that, as he spoke, Stove dropped his head.

Down 67-66 with 3.6 seconds left, UL called timeout, got the ball across halftime and called timeout again with 2.3 seconds showing.

Marlin liked his chances with the play he had in mind “We had time to take a bounce and get off a good shot,” he said — but things did not turn in his favor.

“We didn’t get a break at the end,” he said. “The bounces went in for them, and then we don’t a call on our end.

“It always sticks with you. I mean, it’s disappointing,” Marlin added. “But what do you do? You either get the call, or you don’t.”

Long finished with 10 points and a team-high 11 rebounds for his 75th career double-double, 12th-most on the all-time NCAA leaders list.

Stove and Devonta Walker led UL with 13 points each, and Shepherd finished with 11.

“I was proud of our guys,” Marlin said. “I thought we showed a lot of fire and some excitement coming back in the second half and having an opportunity to win the game.”