The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball team lost their conference-best record and their 10-game winning streak with a pair of gutting losses last week against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles and the Troy Trojans. The Cajuns had finished off a four-game home stand with a win on Senior Day, Feb. 4, over the Marshall Thundering Herd with a comfortable 10-point win to extend their win streak to 10 games.
Then, on Feb. 9, the team traveled to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to play the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, who matched the Cajuns’ 10–2 conference record. They were on a seven-game win streak of their own, and over 8,000 Eagles fans showed out, further underscoring the importance of the matchup.
The Cajuns and Eagles kept pace with each other early, but back-to-back scores courtesy of Jordan Brown helped build a 10-point lead for the Cajuns with four minutes to go in the first half. The team survived a mini-cold stretch to finish the half up 38–33, but the same Eagles’ shooting threats that had kept them in so many games showed up again Thursday. A Felipe Haase 3-pointer with nine minutes to go put the Eagles up by seven and firmly out of reach, and the game would end 82–71.
Brown led all scorers in the game, etching 25 points on 61% true shooting to go along with eight rebounds. Themus Fulks was a positive force on offense with 19 points, four rebounds and four assists. The Cajuns outrebounded the Eagles 41–30 and grabbed 17 offensive boards, but effort wasn’t what lost the game.
36.9% from the field and 2–15 from three as a team won’t cut it against a team as talented as Southern Miss. Assists are points too, and the Cajuns only managed to scrounge up six of them, less than half their usual amount. The pressure to convert every play is enormous of course, but if they had controlled the pace as much as the possession totals indicated and relied on what got them here in the first place, the game was totally winnable for Louisiana.
Then, on Saturday, Feb. 11, the Cajuns faced the Troy Trojans. Remember three weeks ago when the Trojans routed those poor Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks? Turns out they still had more left in the tank for Louisiana teams.
It was bizarre to witness: the Cajuns again kept pace with the opponent and led by five at the half, but at the same spot as last time, with around eight minutes to go, senior Nelson Phillips scored a layup to put the Trojans up by six. The Cajuns went ice cold, while the Trojans poured on 24 more points to end the game 80–65.
The Trojans offense was driven by two players — Zay Williams and Philips accounted for more than half of their team’s points (49!) on 77% true shooting, 17 rebounds, and six steals. In contrast, Brown and Williams only managed 23 points on 8–16 from the field and eight rebounds, production that each of these stars should easily put up themselves. At least the Cajuns made an effort to incorporate more looks from three into this game, going 7–26 for a more respectable rate than Thursday’s game.
So what did we learn from these losses? First: The lack of consistent 3-point specialists on the roster is going to have to be coached around in a very specific way. Hopefully, Bob Marlin and his staff are up to the challenge. Second: the defense has to key in on hot players quicker and make someone else miss. Finally: Jordan Brown has to continue to be the star that he’s been. He has to use his creativity on offense and grow as a playmaker. Only then can this Cajuns squad become the best version of itself and the best team in the Sun Belt.