Texas State men’s basketball lost its second close game of the weekend on Jan. 30 against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 74-73, in the waning seconds of the matchup.
A turnover with two seconds left before the buzzer rang throughout Strahan Arena cost Texas State (11-6 overall, 5-3 Sun Belt Conference) its 12th victory of the season. Prior to the game on Jan. 29, the Bobcats had won five in a row.
The Ragin’ Cajuns (13-4 overall, 7-3 Sun Belt Conference) have now won five in a row and hold a 3-1 advantage over the Bobcats this season, with two games being decided by two or fewer points. The team's second win on the weekend marks its fifth in a row.
Interim Head Coach Terrence Johnson claims the Bobcats' performance was not poor by any means, but the narrow margin of defeat changes his evaluation of the game.
“It's a lot to be excited about but, now at the end of the day, they were one point better,” Johnson says. “And that makes a huge difference. Although it's one point, that makes a huge difference.”
Louisiana kept the Bobcats at arm’s length for the majority of the first half, gaining the lead in its first possession and keeping it until the 7:06 mark of the first half. Texas State’s usually suffocating defense seemed to lack its stopping power, failing to stop the Cajuns from deep or their guards from driving to the basket. The Bobcats did not register a single block in the entire game, compared to Louisiana’s three.
Junior guard Mason Harrell (27 PTS, 9-13 FGS, 2-3 3FGS, 7-7 FTS) led the line with 11 points in the first half. His creativity often caused the Cajun defense to double team him as he drove in for layups, which he responded to by feeding the ball to teammates for open shots elsewhere on the interior — as was the case with a 14:18 jumper made by senior forward Isiah Small (12 PTS, 5-10 FGS). Harrell drove past his defender but was met by two others just in front of the left side of the rim, leading to Harrell firing a bounce pass to an open Small on the right side of the rim for two.
Playing through Harrell and taking advantage of the small windows of opportunity was something the team worked on in between games, Harrell says.
“We had a very long film session this morning,” Harrell says. “We kind of got to see opportunities we missed out on yesterday, and we really just took advantage of their mishaps, and we got to the basket.”
Perimeter defense was a sore spot for the Bobcats as the half ended, an omen for the rest of the game. Senior guard Cedric Russell (24 points, 9-17 FG, 6-9 3PT) and sophomore guard Devin Butts (18 PTS, 6-7 FG, 4-5 FT) tormented Texas State from deep throughout the game. Both players scored two of their three attempts from deep in the first half; the Cajuns’ accuracy from three (55.6%) in the first just eclipsed their total field goal percentage (54.4%).
Texas State and Louisiana jostled for the lead from the 5:19 mark onward, with neither team able to string together defensive plays for an extended period of time. A Small free throw sent the teams to the locker room with the score 38-35 in favor of Louisiana.
The Bobcats were a different team once they hit the court for the second half. A Louisiana two-point jumper nine seconds into the half was met with a hail of buckets from Texas State. From 19:34 to 17:22, Texas State put up eight uncontested points, six of them from three and most of them from fast breaks after rebounds or turnovers.
Louisiana broke the scoring streak with a run of its own: Seven uncontested points from 17:22 to 15:48, turning a five-point Bobcat lead into a two-point Cajun lead. Harrell says sticking to the team’s defensive identity allowed for more points the other way.
“[Johnson] told us to stay with it," Harrell says. "Follow the game plan. We had to pick up things on defense. When we play good defense it turns into easy offense for us. He really harped on that, and that's what we went out and did."
From then on, the game ran through both teams’ guards, most scoring coming from beyond the arc, driving layups or feeds after high screens got forwards open. Eight ties and 10 lead changes in the second half characterized the slugfest. A layup by senior guard Shelby Adams increased the tenuous lead to four, earning the most breathing room for the Bobcats since their offensive frenzy earlier in the period.
Junior forward Brayan Au snagged a defensive rebound two possessions after the Adams score then launched the ball to Butts on the fast break, who successfully pulled up from deep. Au again collected a board on the ensuing Texas State possession, leading to a layup from sophomore guard Mylik Wilson and a one-point Cajun lead with 1:30 left.
Both teams failed to score on their following possessions, leaving Harrell to try and take the game into his own hands with one of his trademark slashing layups. Harrell drew a foul and converted both attempts from the line, leaving Texas State in the lead, 72-73, with 29 seconds left.
Desperate to regain the lead, Russell took the game into his own hands, missing a three-pointer but driving to the rim with three seconds left. The referees called Russell for a charge on graduate guard Marlin Davis, giving Texas State the ball back with 3.4 seconds left and a 73-72 lead.
The game, mere seconds away from being put away by the Bobcats, turned on its head when Butts stole the ball from junior guard Caleb Asberry (15 PTS, 6-8 FG), who continued his recent run of high-scoring games, after the inbound. Butts quickly gathered himself and converted the layup with 0.4 seconds left to put the Cajuns up 74-73. A heave from the baseline to the rim did not find a Bobcat to tip it, handing the Bobcats their second loss of the weekend.
After the game, Johnson says the feeling in the locker room was “one in which we haven’t felt in a while.” He emphasizes the dejection following a brutal loss is natural for a driven team such as the Bobcats.
“When you're [working hard to achieve a goal], then you're supposed to be disappointed,” Johnson says. “You're supposed to be in the thoughts. You're supposed to be trying to figure out what is it that you could have done better. I can tell you there's no finger-pointing. There's people telling guys to keep their heads up, just people telling guys we believe in you. We in this together. But there's nothing to celebrate.”
When asked about the decision to put in relatively inexperienced freshman forward Nate Martin for the back-and-forth last two minutes, Johnson asserts it is simply a matter of confidence in his players.
“I trust him,” Johnson says. “That’s basically it. When you trust somebody, there’s never a better time to go with them.”
Harrell says he stands by his teammates and plans to provide the support they need after a mentally testing weekend.
“[I’ll] just give my teammates the feeling that I trust in them, and I'm gonna live and die with everything they do,” Harrell says. “They're my brothers, and we're gonna be good. We're okay”
Johnson says lessons can be pulled from any game, no matter the team’s success, especially after crucial errors.
“I don't know if you ever stop learning how to win,” Johnson says. “Obviously, that was the case tonight.”
The Bobcats will remain at home for their next games against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on Feb. 5-6.