For the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns basketball team, the start of conference play acted as an important test. After being voted the best preseason team in the Sun Belt conference and starting the season with a 10–2 record, would the Cajuns’ promising offense keep up the pace?
A last-minute collapse against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers on Dec. 29 and an old-school trouncing at the hands of a very physically gifted Old Dominion Monarchs team on Dec. 31 certainly seemed like a failing of that test, and the next four days served as the perfect time to regroup.
2022 stumbled into 2023, and with the new year came new promise. Something has clicked for the team: their field goal percentage has spiked, they’ve begun to out-rebound their opponents by an average of over 10, and their passers and playmakers have taken a marked step forward.
The driving force behind this change started with defense. On Jan. 5 against the 13–2 Southern Miss Golden Eagles, the Cajuns built a great 14-point lead by holding the opponent scoreless for almost six minutes of game time. Effort on closeouts and contests without fouling created a huge deficit in efficiency for the Eagles, their 37.5% from the field paling in comparison to the Cajuns’ 50%, and the game would end the search for a Cajuns’ conference win 75–61.
Next up was the Georgia State Panthers, whose 8–7 record belied their offensive talent: they had kept up competitive efforts against the likes of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and the #19 nationally ranked Auburn Tigers. Again, the game flow featured a five-minute swathe of scoreless play for the Panthers heading into halftime, and again the Cajuns used this momentum to build a sizable lead which they held onto to win 78–70.
A long drive north saw the Cajuns take on their UL brethren, the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks. This time, the Cajuns let their talent do the talking. Absent was the huge cold stretch for the opposition, but present was a 61.5% shooting clip, including 9–17 from three, a flamethrower rate by Cajuns standards. 15 minutes in, and a 24-point lead had been built. Whenever the Hawks went on a scoring run, Jordan Brown, Greg Williams, and Joe Charles just poured in more and came away with an easy-looking 86–73 win.
To take on the South Alabama Jaguars, the Cajuns would need the intersection of both these motifs: a 13–4 run midway through the first half helped keep a suddenly red-hot Jags bench at bay going into the half, but the damage had been done, and the score stood at 33–40. Brown and Williams again stepped up and pushed the pace. A clutch Themus Fulks layup and Williams free throws in the last 30 seconds put the game out of reach for good, 79–76.
In the streak, the Cajuns have shown that they can adapt to almost any style that they need to with their lockdown defense and high-flying offense. Everyone has contributed positively, but of special note are long-time guard Jalen Dalcourt and forward Joe Charles, both of whose aggressive style of do-everything, spark-plug basketball has been invaluable coming off the bench.