After an overtime loss the previous night, Texas State men's basketball (7-4 overall, 1-1 Sun Belt) beat the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns (7-2 overall, 1-1 Sun Belt) 71-59 in the second matchup of its weekend doubleheader on Jan. 2.
The Texas State victory snaps Louisiana's seven-game win streak and is the first career Sun Belt Conference win for the Bobcats' first-year Head Coach Terrence Johnson.
Johnson was pleased with the way his team fought in this game, especially playing on the road.
"All conference wins are big, but road wins in conference seem to carry more weight," Johnson said. "You cannot win on the road in this league without some grit and toughness. We were not perfect, but we never lacked grit or toughness."
As for the contest itself, both teams were caught up in a sloppy, defensive struggle in the first half. The opening period saw an abundance of turnovers and missed shots until Texas State caught fire in the second half.
Louisiana was able to take control early in the first half as it led 12-5 at the 12:30 mark. Neither team looked poised as they both combined for nine turnovers up to that point.
A dunk by Texas State junior forward Alonzo Sule and a three-pointer from graduate guard Marlin Davis brought the score to 12-10. The Cajuns responded by scoring five straight points, capped off by a three from sophomore guard Mylik Wilson to increase the Louisiana lead 17-10 with 8:31 left in the half.
Senior forward Isiah Small scored five unanswered off a mid-range jumper and a contested corner three to bring the Bobcats within two once again at 17-15.
A corner three by junior guard Mason Harrell tied the game 20-20 with 2:46 to go in the first half. A short corner jumper by Texas State's junior forward Nighael Ceaser ended the first half in a 24-24 tie.
The Bobcats were plagued by 12 first-half turnovers, even though they shot an acceptable 42.9% (9-21, 3-8 three-pointers) from the floor and out-rebounded Louisiana 17-12.
On the flip side, the Cajuns shot a lackluster 29.2% (7-24, 3-11 three-pointers) from the floor but were a perfect 7-7 from the free-throw line. However, the Cajuns were not immune to sloppy offensive play as they committed nine turnovers of their own.
For Louisiana, Wilson led in the first period with 10 points (3-5, 1-2 three-pointers), followed by senior guard Cedric Russell with six points (2-8, 2-5 three-pointers).
Despite being hobbled after a collision in the previous night's game, Small was the Bobcats' leading scorer in the half with seven points (3-4, 1-1 three-pointers), followed by Harrell with five points (2-5, 1-3 three-pointers).
A surprising no show for the first half was the Bobcats' second-leading scorer on the season, junior guard Caleb Asberry. Although he started the game, Asberry only played six minutes going 0-1 from the floor.
The second half continued to be a back-and-forth affair. The game remained tied at 34-34 with 15:37 left in the game until junior guard Brayan Au hit a three to take the lead 37-34 for the Cajuns.
The Bobcats answered with a 10-2 run capped off by an up-and-under layup by senior forward Quentin Scott to go ahead 44-39 with 12:13 remaining. Texas State never relinquished the lead for the remainder of the game.
The 'Cats got hot and kept going as they went on an 18-7 run finished off by a 15-foot shot by Small. The shot gave the team its largest lead of the game at 64-48 at the 4:27 mark.
Louisiana did manage to make the contest competitive late in the ball game as it played a full-court press, preventing Texas State from continuing its offensive rhythm. The Cajuns got within single digits at 66-59 with 1:16 left.
As time ticked away, Louisiana was forced to foul and Texas State made 5-6 free throws to end the game 71-59.
The Bobcats shot an astounding 75% (18-24, 3-5 three-pointers) from the floor in the second half. This brought their field goal percentage to a season-high 60% (27-45, 6-13 three-pointers) for the game.
The 'Cats were successful in getting the ball in the lane as 20 of their 47 second-half points came from the paint.
That interior attack was led by Small who scored 11 of his game-high 18 points in the second half. Small followed up his career-high scoring performance from the night before with a near-perfect shooting percentage as he was 8-9 from the floor.
Other notable scorers for the Maroon and Gold were Asberry with 12 points (4-7, 2-4 three-pointers), all coming in the second half, followed by Harrell and Scott who had 10 points apiece. Harrell also finished the game with four steals and four rebounds.
For Louisiana, it finished the contest shooting a below-average 34.6% (18-52, 6-21 three-pointers), yet it managed to go a perfect 17-17 from the charity stripe.
Wilson led the Cajuns with 14 points (4-10, 1-3 three-pointers, 5-5 free throws), followed by Russell with 11 points (4-13, 2-7 three-pointers). Junior forward Theo Akwuba had a near double-double with nine points (2-3, 5-5 free throws) and nine rebounds.
After losing to Louisiana the night before, Johnson says his team played better on both ends of the court and displayed it is capable of playing for one another.
"We did a better job finishing plays tonight on the defensive end and, offensively, we moved the ball well and took good shots," Johnson said. "That shows growth, trust and belief in the system and each other. I am extremely proud of this group. They are growing up right in front of our eyes. We will enjoy this win tonight and then rehab and regroup for another tough opponent next week."
Texas State will head back home to face the Arkansas State University Red Wolves in a double-header. The first game will take place at 4 p.m. Jan. 8 in Strahan Arena.