UTA Ends Cajuns’ NCAA Hopes, 74-71
It all comes down to three days in March.
And, after the winningest regular season in Ragin' Cajuns basketball history, the Cajuns will march into the NIT.
UTA ended the Cajuns' hopes of getting into the NCAA Tournament, beating Louisiana 71-68 in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Men's Basketball Tournament.
UTA (21-12) will meet either Georgia Southern or Georgia State in the championship game at 1:00 pm Sunday.
The Cajuns (27-6) are assured a berth in the NIT by virtue of winning the regular season championship. They will find out the location and the opponent sometime Sunday night.
The Cajuns led 68-67 after two Frank Bartley free throws with 1:54 to play. Erick Neal missed a three point shot with 1:38 left but Kevin Hervey snagged the rebound. Hervey missed a jumper and Marcus Stroman rebounded, but was called for a foul, his fifth of the game as the partisan Cajuns' crowd erupted in protest. Kaelon Wilson made both free throws to give UTA the lead.
Losing Stroman hurt as the Cajuns wound up getting a forced jumper by Malik Marquetti that missed with :52 seconds left. Neal missed another triple, but Wilson snared the rebounded and got the ball to Hervey, who was fouled. He made both free throws with 10.9 second remaining. Freshman Cedric Russell missed a three pointer and Bryce Washington's desperation three was off the mark as the buzzer sounded.
Neal led UTA with 18 points. Wilson added 17, while Hervey scored 14 and had eleven rebounds. Center Johnny Hamilton chipped in 12 points.
Bartley scored 19 points to lead the Cajuns. Justin Miller added 14 off the bench, while Marquetti and Washington scored eleven points each, with Washington tallying a double double with 10 rebounds.
The Cajuns held UTA to 39.3% shooting in the second half after allowing 52% in the first half as UTA took a 37-34 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Mavericks hit 8-21 from three point range, while the Cajuns made just 6-26, including 2-13 in the second half. And, the Cajuns, who led the conference in free throw shooting, made just 12-19.
JaKeenan Gant, who played only three minutes in the win over Texas State because of respiratory issues, managed only nine minutes in the first half before leaving and did not play in the second half. Johnathan Stove, who suffered a high ankle sprain last Thursday against Arkansas State, managed only five minutes.
The Cajuns jumped out to an early 9-2 lead, but the Mavericks responded with an 13-2 run to take a 15-10 lead and led by eight, 36-28 before the Cajuns got a three pointer from Bartley and a layup by Miller to trail by just three at the break.