The first two games of the regular season for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns revealed highs and lows on both sides of the ball, from stellar shot creation and scoring to poor situational performances.
Louisiana defeated the Youngstown State Penguins 72–62 in their regular season home opener on Monday, Nov. 6, and followed with a promising effort in a 87–78 road defeat at the hands of the Toledo Rockets on Saturday, Nov. 11.
In what should be a recurring headline throughout the season, junior guard Themus Fulks more than met the expectations that were set for him when he was named to the Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference Team for 2023-24.
“I get a good idea for how a team’s going to play me,” Fulks said during a post-game presser after Monday’s season-opening win. “If the team is making me pass the ball, I’m not going to try to shoot 20 shots, but if the team is trying to make me score, I know my teammates believe in me, I know my coaches believe in me, and I know that I’m capable of it.”
In last season’s Sun Belt Conference Championship game against South Alabama, Fulks set a career-high with 23 points. It took Fulks two games to top that mark with 25 points on 10 of 13 shooting Saturday against Toledo.
Through two games, Fulks has averaged 22.5 points per game while shooting 16 of 30 from the field. After dishing out 11 assists in last year’s first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Tennessee, Fulks is matching that production with a dozen through two games.
Junior forward Joe Charles, one of four Ragin’ Cajuns averaging 30-plus minutes through two games, is harnessing the confidence instilled in him over the summer to fill the void left by the departures of last year’s bigs Terence Lewis and Jordan Brown.
“I had a talk with the coaches and they told me my role,” Charles said. “I had to step up major on offense and defense, but mostly offense.”
This comes a year after Charles felt hesitant in his ability during his sophomore campaign.
“They [Charles’ teammates] encouraged me a lot this summer cause last year I was iffy,” Charles said. “My confidence started growing. The team feeds off my energy, most likely. If I have my energy up, the team will pick their energy up and we’ll start clicking.”
The Carencro native has posted back-to-back double doubles to start the year along with five blocks on the defensive end. The 20 rebounds through two games – eight on offense, 12 on defense – are a product of what Charles has showcased in practice.
“He looked like Dennis Rodman in practice,” 14-year head coach Bob Marlin said of Charles during the Nov. 6 post-game press conference. “He’s just getting every rebound.”
A presence like Rodman on the glass will be a welcome revelation for Marlin’s squad in 2023-24.
Despite the victory and several good looks from the field, the Ragin’ Cajuns lost the battle in the paint and shot only 35.4% from the field against Youngstown State. Louisiana was outscored 42–36 in the paint and out-rebounded 43–38.
Shots were falling at a more normal rate against Toledo, with the Ragin’ Cajuns shooting 54.1% from the field.
Turning the ball over twice as much as Toledo (18), allowing 53 second-half points, and mediocre night at the free throw line were Louisiana’s downfall. Toledo made 20 of 28 free throws. The Ragin’ Cajuns had six total attempts at the charity stripe.
Despite not having a senior on the roster, the Ragin’ Cajuns still return a lot of experience. Louisiana starters have scored 87.3% of the team’s 150 total points through two games.
Per his presser, there’s a desire from coach Marlin to get young guys like London Fields, Blake Butler, Brandon Hardy and Kyran Ratliff more playing time.
Expect to see them more during the early non-conference portion of the regular season, as their supporting roles will be vital for the Ragin’ Cajuns to be a threat in the Sun Belt.