Men’s Basketball: UL win over UALR earns Cajuns No. 4 seed in Sun Belt tourney
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 6, 2015
UL’s Kasey Shepherd (5) puts up a shot as he University of Arkansas Little Rock’s Mareik Isom (21) defends Thursday. (Photo: Leslie Westbrook/The Advertiser)
Point guard Jay Wright was called out because of his early game play. Power forward Devonta Walker was fussed at for a late-game play.
Both responded, and because they did, UL beat Arkansas-Little Rock 75-69 Thursday night in front of an announced 4,134 watching its regular-season finale at the Cajundome.
Walker finished with a team-high 15 points, including much-needed 8-of-8 free-throw shooting in the final 33 seconds, and Wright added 14 points, 12 of which came in the second half, as the Ragin’ Cajuns won for the fifth straight time and improved to 18-12 overall and 12-7 in Sun Belt Conference play.
The victory — combined with Texas-Arlington’s loss at Georgia Southern and UL Monroe’s loss to Georgia State — means UL is guaranteed of a one-round bye and is locked into the No. 4 seed at next week’s Sun Belt Tournament in New Orleans.
The Cajuns, who led 32-27 at the half and never trailed after the break, open there March 13.
"I don’t think we played pretty tonight at times, but we played hard," said UL coach Bob Marlin, whose club closes its regular season Saturday night at Arkansas State.
"We made enough plays. We haven’t been shooting free throws like we did tonight, and we needed every one of them."
The Cajuns finished 22-of-23 at the foul line, including 9-of-10 by Walker and 4-of-4 from 13-point scorer Shawn Long.
Heading into a late timeout, Walker was chastised by assistant coach Kevin Johnson.
"He let (Roger) Woods (who led UALR with 17 points) go around him for a basket," Marlin said. "We got onto him and just expect more."
But with UL clinging to a three-point lead after a Josh Hagins 3-pointer made it 67-64 with one minute and 26 seconds remaining, Walker went to the foul line with 33 seconds left and hit two freebies to put UL up 69-64.
UALR J.T. Thomas responded with a layup to again make it a three-point game, and with 21 seconds left Walker converted two more.
Not for Walker, a 79.0 percent shooter from the stripe on the season heading into the night.
"I just know I can shoot free throws," he said.
Another two successful free throws from Walker followed with 12 seconds remaining, extending the Cajun advantage to seven at 73-66.
Hagins hit another trey five seconds later, but Walker was fouled yet again, this time after taking an in-bounds pass from Bryce Washington. The transfer from Western Texas College made both, and the Trojans had no answer for that.
"That was big for us," Marlin said.
"I was positive he was gonna make (them)," Wright added. "He always makes his free throws in practice."
Wright, meanwhile, struggled out of gate and took a seat before the game was three minutes old.
But he, too, took the instruction well.
"I came out sluggish," Wright said. "I didn’t set the tone for the team like I usually do, and we started off slow. The second half I got my mind right, and we came out pretty strong and we finished it up."
Wright said assistant coach Gus Hauser "told me I’m the energy guy, and I’ve got to get these guys going."
"Jay was struggling a little bit. I told him he was thinking too much. He was trying to please us, and made a couple poor decisions," Marlin said. "You know, he threw one (pass) to Shawn (Long) trailing on the run in the first half, and just wasn’t getting us in the offense the way he needed to.
"So we did challenge him. It wasn’t just Coach Hauser. I got him too, and he does respond. He’s good at that. … All these guys are listening, and doing a good job."
LAGNIAPPE: On Senior Night, shooting guard Xavian Rimmer and power forward Aaron LeBlanc both started while sophomore shooting guard Hayward Register and freshman power forward Bryce Washington did not. LeBlanc, playing in just his fifth game this season, hit a jumper for UL’s first two points of the game and Rimmer had three points.
Seniors Rimmer, LeBlanc, Brian Williams and Donovan Williams (who played his last game at the end of last semester) all were honored before Thursday’s game.
Brian Williams didn’t dress and missed a third straight game due to a shoulder injury. Freshman Johnathan Stove again started in his place at small forward.