Four UL Lafeyette players cracked double-digit scoring, and the Ragin’ Cajuns shot 51 percent from the field. That sent the Georgia Southern men’s basketball team to a second consecutive home defeat as the league-leading Cajuns rolled to a 102-91 victory Saturday night at Hanner Fieldhouse.
A win by the Cajuns (21-4, 11-1 Sun Belt) wasn’t an incredible surprise as they have led the Sun Belt from wire-to-wire, but the Eagles have now lost three of their last four games on their home floor and are trying to hang on to a top-four spot in the standings — and a first round bye in the conference tournament — as the season’s final weeks melt away.
“Overall, I liked our hustle,” GS coach Mark Byington said. “Our guys never gave up and they fought hard until the end. There were spots where we just didn’t execute and it put us in a tough situation.”
Georgia Southern (16-10, 7-6) trailed by as many as 21 with just over eight minutes to go. The Cajuns had slowly been pulling ahead late in the first half, but a handful of hurried and missed jumpers for the Eagles led gto a flurry of layups and dunks that highlighted a 13-0 ULL run.
Shots began to fall for the Eagles during a frenzied final few minutes, but the Cajuns had built a big enough lead — and also notched some key offensive rebounds and put-backs down the stretch — to keep Georgia Southern at an arm’s length.
Perhaps more frustrating than the loss was the way that the Eagles went about losing.
Tookie Brown scored a game-high 29 points and Ike Smith added 25 more. The duo might have done enough to put Georgia Southern over the top, but Brown was limited to just 24 minutes — including a zero-point, four-minute first half performance — and Smith played only 30 minutes as the Eagles were once again saddled by early and severe foul trouble.
In a game that was similar to the Eagles’ 63-foul slog through the mud at Arkansas State last weekend, two GS players fouled out and the team was whistled a total of 27 times. It was far from a one-sided affair as far as the whistles were concerned as the Cajuns were called for 27 fouls of their own.
The teams combined to shoot 66 free throws while eight players either fouled out or were within one more foul of being disqualified.
“I thought the game changed when Tookie picked up his second foul,” Byington said. “We were ahead at that point, but you have to protect him with two fouls and that really changed how we had to approach the game.”
The foul issues were problem enough for the Eagles, but what really did them in was the Cajuns’ hot shooting throughout the night.
Jonathan Stove rolled up 28 points while Frank Bartley netted 21. And while UL Lafayette didn’t notch its biggest leads until the second half, the team shot better — 54 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range — over the first 20 minutes, often using quick transition down the court to swing the ball for an open 3 or get the ball into the paint for easy layups.
“We have some guys who just aren’t understanding our transition defense,” Byington said. “We wanted them in there because they were shooting well and I don’t fault the effort they gave, but we just made too many mistakes. A good team like that will hurt you when you make so many mistakes.”
Georgia Southern will get a bit of a breather before getting to play a third consecutive home game for the first time all season when it welcomes Georgia State to Hanner Fieldhouse for a nationally televised game next Friday at 9 p.m.