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Men’s Basketball: Cajuns notch 20th win before SBC Tournament

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, March 5, 2017

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas:
Click here for the photo gallery of the UL vs. UTA games on Saturday at the Cajundome.

Head Coach Bob Marlin, Lucretia Wright , Jay Wright,

Lucretia Wright, Jay Wright, and Clarence Wright, Saturday, March 4, 2017, Senior Day, Scott Clause/USA TODAY Network.

OK, raise your hand if you’re not a member of the UL Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball team and really expected coach Bob Marlin’s club to end the regular season riding a six-game winning streak.

If any of you can honestly say you did, congratulations. You don’t have a lot of company.

But that’s exactly what Marlin’s Cajuns were able to achieve after Saturday’s gutsy 83-81 win over league champion Texas-Arlington.

It’s not that the Cajuns don’t have talent. That’s been displayed at different times throughout the season.

It’s not that anyone should have thought that this team would pack it in after a rough stretch. On the contrary, from the outside looking in, this appears to be the best character team of the Marlin era.

And as Marlin correctly pointed out in Saturday’s postgame press conference, this team did win eight in a row earlier this season and has put together the program’s best road record in 17 years.

Add the fact that UL is now 52-28 in the months of February and March since Marlin’s arrival and yes, the Cajuns have plenty of credentials to suggest a potential winning streak.

“We have a good basketball team,” Marlin said.

But think about that seventh game. It was on Feb. 11 and it was a disastrous night filled with technical fouls, an ejection and a frustrating 100-88 home setback. It was UL’s fourth straight loss. It was the third time the Cajuns had given up 100 points to an opponent in an eight-game stretch.

Did anyone leaving the Cajundome that night actually predict an impending six-game winning streak? Really?

I say all of that not to criticize this team. Actually, just the opposite. To do what this team just did, it takes a lack of finger-pointing. It takes strong leadership, which the Cajuns have in senior Jay Wright and a host of stand-up juniors.

It takes guts, which the entire starting five clearly displayed in beating UTA, Wright in particular showed against Texas State and Stove exhibited at ULM.

And sure, it takes a little good fortune along the way, like Johnathan Stove’s half-court drama.

Somehow quite possibly the toughest Sun Belt schedule during Marlin’s time here didn’t wear the team down. They had enough pride and found enough motivation to stay the course.

On Saturday, part of that extra juice was a 108-71 demolition at UTA back on Jan. 23. Watching the Mavs destroy them with their starters still in the game up 30-plus points was tough for the Cajuns to swallow, and they never forgot it.

“We couldn’t sleep at night,” said Frank Bartley, who scored 22 points with three assists and four steals in Saturday’s win.

“If someone beats you by 30-something points, you will not forget it,” said Bryce Washington, who has 12 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.

For a senior like Wright, the motivation is that this is his last hurrah.

For the team, there may be some special motivation still to be unveiled. If UL can defeat Little Rock for a third time this season Wednesday in New Orleans, it would create a rematch with Georgia State, which punished the Cajuns 101-86 in Lafayette on Jan. 16.

The last time UL had 20 wins before the Sun Belt Tournament, it had a really memorable 82-81 overtime triumph with Georgia State to earn an NCAA Tournament berth. Plus, there’s still a little nastiness to the UL-Georgia State series.

First things first, but perhaps it’s time to stop doubting the tenacity of the 2016-17 Ragin’ Cajuns.