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Men’s Basketball: CAJUNS CRUISE – UL men roll, stifle Mean Green star Mitchell

Louisiana forward Bryant Mbamalu (R) jumps up against North Texas guard Jordan Williams (L) 
Louisiana forward Bryant Mbamalu (R) jumps up against North Texas guard Jordan Williams (L) / The Advertiser photo

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, February 1, 2013

After the history they’ve had against NBA prospect Tony Mitchell, and the week of practice they had heading into their Sun Belt Conference game against North Texas, nothing much shocked the Ragin’ Cajuns on Thursday.

Not the fact they held Mitchell to just seven points, making it 11, 7, 5 and 3 in the sophomore’s five career games against UL.

Not the fact Elfrid Payton had a team-high 24 points, Shawn Long had yet another double-double with 23 points and a game-high 13 rebounds and Bryant Mbamalu had 18 points in his first game back after missing four straight with a torn thumb ligament.

Not even the fact they rolled to a 105-74 win over the Mean Green in front of 2,294 at the Cajundome, snapping a three-game losing streak while improving to 8-15 overall and 4-8 in Sun Belt play.

The win was the Cajuns’ first with 100-plus points since a 102-38 victory over NAIA Dillard on Dec. 12, 2011, and the 105 were their most since they scored 110 in a win at Western Kentucky on Jan. 29, 2004.

"We pretty much got after it all this week," said Long, whose double-double was his sixth in a row and 14th in 23 games this season. "We had good practices all week. So for us to come out and play like this, it didn’t really surprise me."

Nor was Long caught off-guard by yet another solid UL defensive effort against Mitchell, who seemed flustered by the play of Cajun power forward Elridge Moore and — typical of prior meetings with the Cajuns — frustrated by foul trouble.

Mitchell played just 25 minutes, committed four fouls and picked up one of three technicals called on a 8-15, 3-9 North Texas team that sustained its worst loss in conference play since an 89-58 to UL in the 2002-03 season.

"Elridge Moore sticked to him most of the game — and I think he’s one of the best defensive players on our team," Long said. "So for him to hold Mitchell didn’t really surprise me, because he works really hard on defense. He takes pride in his defense."

"A lot of it was Elridge," UL coach Bob Marlin added with reference to the work of Moore, who also scored 10 points, against the possible 2013 NBA first-round draft pick. "But a lot of it was Tony again. He got in foul trouble … and it certainly helped our cause."

Mitchell, who got off only four shots from the field, scored all seven of his points during a first half that the Cajuns took 45-37.

UL’s 45 points at the break was its most in an opening half this season. Its previous high was 39 — in a Dec. 1 win at North Texas.

The Mean Green, which got a game-high 31 points from Jordan Williams, did get to within four after an Alzee Williams made it 47-43 a minute-and-a-half into the second half.

But UL reeled off a quick 8-0 run behind two Payton three throws and 3-pointers from both Alan-Michael Thompson and Long.

North Texas still was within striking distance at 71-61 with 8:30 remaining, but the Cajuns used another run — this one 18-0 — to go up 89-61.

"We executed, we defended during that stretch," said Marlin, whose Cajuns won the battle of the boards (38-27) for this time in conference play this season. "We rebounded the basketball, and we certainly took care of it.

"It’s funny what rebounding the basketball will do."

Marlin also lauded UL for solid shooting (53.5 percent on 71 attempts, including 11-of-22 from 3-point range) and deflections against North Texas’ press that helped produce 12 fastbreak points.

"That led to easy baskets," he said. "You don’t score 100 points without getting some easy baskets."

A Kasey Shepherd

3-pointer with 1:15 remaining put UL over 100 at 101-70, and Josh Soto’s free throw gave the Cajuns their game-high lead of 33 with 58 seconds to go.

Everyone who played for UL scored, including walk-ons Braylon Lazare and Aaron Leblanc.

"Now the question is can we go out and put up two in a row," said Marlin, whose Cajuns play Saturday night at Troy.

Payton, who went turnover free and made 10-of-13 from the free-throw line, proffered a hopeful answer.

"We’re just still trying to figure it out," he said. "I think we’re definitely capable of nights like this on a consistent basis. It’s just all about trying to stay consistent, trying to keep working hard, don’t get content with this, go back and work as if we lost by 30.

"This could be big," the Cajun point guard added. "This could definitely be big. It’s gonna really help that confidence. So the biggest thing is to come back in practice and work as hard as we did this week."

Marlin, to no one’s surprise, concurred.

"If this win won’t give you confidence," he said, "I don’t know what will."

LAGNIAPPE: Usual starter Mbamalu returned for UL, but he came off the bench and Thompson — who had 22 points vs. Florida International one week earlier — started at shooting guard. … Reserve guard Donovan Williams was available for the first since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery after having played just two games, but he didn’t play Thursday. … UL was 78.3 percent from the free-throw line — snapping a streak of seven straight outings below 70 percent.