Louisiana Crushes Georgia Southern 82-69 With Big Second Half
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns men's basketball team buried the Georgia Southern Eagles on the road with a big second half to win their third straight game.
With the win, Louisiana improved to 13-13 overall and 8-8 in Sun Belt Conference play. They are currently ranked seventh in the conference, but there can still be movement on the final day of the regular season on Friday. Head coach Bob Marlin talked about the second half for the Cajuns in the victory.
"We did everything better in the second half," Marlin said. "We dominated the field goal percentage in the second half. We shared the ball as well. Kobe hit big buckets, Theo hit big buckets, and Kentrell gave us a couple of great baskets. It was a team effort today and a good win."
For the second consecutive game, the Cajuns were missing leading scorer Jordan Brown due to contract tracing. Louisiana struggled offensively to start the game. They made only one of their first eight shot attempts, and that one make was a three-pointer by forward Theo Akwuba as time was running out on the shot clock. Akwuba also had two early blocks for the Cajuns.
Meanwhile, the Eagles hit their first three shots from long distance and went on a 13-0 run to take a commanding 15-3 lead in the first five minutes. Louisiana forward Kobe Julien broke the run with his first jumper of the night.
Finally, the Cajuns started to see some shots fall with a team effort. Julien's jumper sparked a 9-0 run where Michael Thomas, Jalen Dalcourt, and Joe Charles each made field goals to get Louisiana within three.
The Cajuns got back into the game with defense. The Eagles cooled off after a hot start, and they missed nine of 10 shots over a nine minute stretch. Georgia Southern had a five minute scoring drought which allowed an Akwuba layup to tie the game at 18. Kentrell Garnett gave Louisiana a brief lead with a layup, but the Eagles answered with a three. Garnett came back and hit his own three on the other end.
Georgia Southern continued using what was working on offense in the first half, and that was shots from beyond the three-point line. Following Garnett's three, they hit three of four attempts from long distance to regain the lead.
The Cajuns smothered the Eagles defensively to end the first half. A 6-0 push by Louisiana gave them a two-point advantage, but Georgia Southern hit a contested three to take a 35-34 lead into halftime.
The biggest difference in the first half was clearly the three-point line. The Eagles were shooting less than 30% as a team from three entering the game, but they were 8-14 from distance in the first half for 57%. Meanwhile, the Cajuns only hit two of their nine threes before the break.
Louisiana scored the first five points of the second half on a Julien layup and Dalcourt three. They took their biggest lead of the night at 39-35, and the Georgia Southern coach quickly called a timeout.
Julien hit another shot, and, on the next possession, Thomas got a steal and brought the ball into the paint for a fast-break layup. Louisiana's run stretched to 9-0, and the Cajuns continued their strong offensive play, hitting six of their first eight shot attempts from the field. Their lead was 47-38 thanks to a 13-3 streak to open the second half.
Forward Dou Gueye's layup broke a streak of six straight missed shots in a four minute scoreless drought. Akwuba got a steal and hit a hook shot to stretch the lead back out to six points at 53-47.
Louisiana dominated on both sides of the court for seven minutes of game time late in the second half. This was the pivotal stretch in the game. Julien and Garnett each hit big threes, and the lead expanded back to nine points. The Cajuns defense forced a turnover, and great ball movement ended in another Garnett three assisted by Akwuba. A Julien layup made it a 12-2 run to open some separation with a 67-53 lead with five minutes remaining.
Akwuba got an offensive rebound off of a missed jumper and put in a layup with a foul. He hit the free throw to earn his season-high 18th point. Julien connected on his second three to make it 73-55.
A dunk by Akwuba put the finishing touches on a dominant second half. Louisiana won their third straight game with a 82-69 victory. Akwuba had a monster performance for the Cajuns with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks. Julien scored 18 points and Garnett added 14 for Louisiana.
Marlin talked about Akwuba's play in the win.
"He was really good," Marlin said. "Theo's such an important piece. He's a great anchor, and he was really big for us tonight."
After Georgia Southern was deadly in the first half from three-point range, Marlin and the Cajuns made halftime defensive adjustments to shut that down. They took six three-pointers in the second half and didn't hit a single one. Louisiana also did a good job of taking care of the ball offensively in this game. They had 14 assists to only nine turnovers. The Cajuns took advantage at the free throw line, hitting 19 of their 23 shots from the stripe.
Marlin talked about the momentum that his team has built late in the season.
"We had another single digit turnover game today," Marlin said. "We're playing good basketball. We dominated on the offensive end and played pretty good defense in the second half. We're just going to continue to build. We're going to go to Atlanta and give our best effort, I can promise that."
Up next, Louisiana plays their regular season finale on the road against the Georgia State Panthers on Friday, Feb. 25 at 6:00 p.m. The Cajuns will look to avenge their 68-64 loss to the Panthers in the Cajundome earlier in the season and enter the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on a four-game winning streak.