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Men's Basketball: Ragin' Cajuns get shot in the arm with win over Troy

Nick Fontenot, The Advertiser, Dec. 4, 2020

Click here for the Cajuns vs. Troy Men's Basketball Photo Gallery.

It’s been a much-documented season of adversity of UL coach Bob Marlin and the Ragin’ Cajuns basketball team.

The Cajuns have lost multiple starters for the season, endured a six-losing streak and seemingly couldn't find anything positive to potentially turnaround this season. But Saturday night’s game against Troy was different.

It was a different intensity level from the Cajuns. A different effort from start to finish. The Cajuns had five scorers in double figures. Mylik Wilson scored a career-high 18 points and had the first double-double of his career. 

Calvin Temple, who got the first start of his career, added 12 points. Cedric Russell, who has been dejected the last few games, poured in 15. Tirus Smith had a breakout game, scoring 15 as well.

Related: Cajuns remain united amid tumultuous season

The result was a 79-62 win and a much-needed shot in the arm as the Cajuns get set for a three-game road trip.

Marlin said throughout the losing streak that the Cajuns have had a chance to win in the end, but couldn't close them out.

Not Saturday.

“We’ve had games where we were right there,” Marlin said. “We needed to win one of these games. We’ve gotten better and it was important to get this one because we are going on that road trip.”

Russell, who had been visibly dejected following last few games, said the difference Saturday to the previous games was the level of closeness the Cajuns are showing when the game isn't going as smoothly as they’d like.

More: UL's Russell has 'really taken ownership of the team'

“The camaraderie was there tonight and us pulling for each other,” Russell said. “When (Smith) is taking charges, the whole bench is standing up and clapping for him. When someone else makes a shot, it’s like we’re making a shot. We are really playing together and leaning on each other right now.”

mith took three charges Saturday and energized the lineup when he was on the floor. Smith, who has had his share of foul issues during the losing streak, said he just needed to adjust his play to how the officials were calling the game.

"The main thing I was focused on was where my fouls were coming from and the way I was getting them,” said Smith. “I had to adjust my style of play and when I was inserted into the starting lineup, it was time for me to see how they are calling the game from the tip as opposed to coming off the bench.”

Marlin said Saturday’s game from Smith is hopefully a sign of things to come for the junior forward.

“Tirus made some good moves in there tonight,” Marlin said. “We got several and 1s from different people tonight, but Tirus did a nice job for us. He can block shots, he took charges and he plays extremely hard.”

More: UL's Tirus Smith wondered if he was ever going to play again

The Cajuns had a sizable 42-27 rebounding advantage over Troy, which, according to Smith, is a testament to the work they’ve put in at practice.

“The main focus at practice was rebounding,” Smith said. “It was a big emphasis — making sure we had three guys on offense and five guys defensive rebounding. It has to be a team effort,”

Marlin said Troy lacks a dominant big man, unlike some of the Trojans’ past teams. While the Cajuns are similar in that regard, Marlin said he felt like it was an area the Cajuns could exploit.

“They don't have that player like they've had in the past where they can pound it inside,” Marlin said. “They're more of a perimeter team and we really wanted to beat them on the glass. We rebounded well against South Alabama in the second half and we took that over tonight.”

The Cajuns now embark on a three-game road trip against Appalachian State, Georgia State and Georgia Southern. Russell said the win against Troy will serve as a motivator during that tough stretch.

“We really need this one desperately,” Russell said. “We owed it to ourselves and owed it to the fans who support us. It’s a big weight off our shoulders. I feel like there’s was a lot lifted off of us tonight and it’s time to start a streak.”

More: Wait for NCAA eligibility was taxing on UL guard Temple