Jan 3, 2013 10:51 PM by UL Sports Information
Shawn Long, Elfrid Payton and Bryant Mbamalu combined to score 58 points, but the Cajuns couldn't overcome a 12-point halftime deficit, dropping a 75-70 decision at Florida Atlantic on Thursday night.
The loss drops Louisiana to 6-10 on the year and out of first place in the Sun Belt west division with a 2-3 record. FAU improves to 7-8 overall and 3-2 in league play.
"This is a tough one," head coach Bob Marlin said. "We played hard for 40 minutes and only made a few mistakes but it just wasn't enough.
"Bryant, Shwn and Elfrid have been scoring for us all season long, but for us to be successful, we need the rest of the team to step up and make some shots. Tonight we couldn't find the balance that we need and it hurt us in the end.
"We dug ourselves a little hole in the first half and you have to credit FAU because they continually hit some tough shots and made some stops to prevent us from coming back."
Payton continually found an easy path to the hoop for easy baskets to lead the Cajuns in scoring for the fifth time this season with 23 points. He was 10-for-14 from the field to top his previous high of 20 points, most recently scored at Arkansas State last Thursday.
Long played well, scoring 22 points with nine rebounds. It was his sixth 20-point game of the year and he came one rebound short of his ninth double-double.
Mbamalu, who had recorded 20 points or more in three of his previous four games, scored all but four of his 17 points in the second half.
Greg Gantt led the Owls with 23 points while Stefan Moody added 16 points and nine rebounds and Pablo Bertone scored 12 points.
After 40 minutes of aggressive defense at both ends of the court, foul shooting proved to be the difference as the Cajuns struggled to go 11-for-21 from the stripe (.524) while the Owls connected on 18 of their 21 free throws (.857).
"Our free throw shooting has been pretty good for most of the year, but we didn't have it tonight. Last week we make 11 straight to close out the win over Little Rock and if we had shot like that tonight, we could have pulled it out," Marlin said.
The game was statistically otherwise even as both teams shot well (UL was 27-for-53, .509 & FAU 26-for-54, .481), made five three-pointers and 12 turnovers each with FAU holding a slight 32-39 rebounding edge.
The first half belonged to the Owls as FAU overcame cold shooting early to take a 39-27 lead into the break.
The omen of what might be ahead for the Cajuns may have come on the first possession. After the Owls won the jump and the Cajuns played solid defense for the first 34 seconds, UL had FAU's Greg Gantt double-teamed at mid-court as the shot clock wound down. Gantt however would split the double-team and find Pablo Bertone open in the corner for a three-pointer and a 3-0 lead.
The Cajuns would jump on top 7-3 (15:47) as Payton scored the first seven points and FAU made just one of its first nine field goal attempts.
The Owls found their shooting touch, making 13 of their next 15 shots, including five three-pointers, to open up a 37-23 lead with 2:42 left in the half.
Louisiana tried to dig itself out of the 12-point halftime hole. Five points from Mbamalu, including one of his three treys, pulled UL to within 42-34 with 17:48 left.
Opportunities to pull closer were few as each time the Cajuns drew close, the Owls countered.
With UL trailing 47-38, the Cajuns couldn't connect on a pair of three-point attempts and had a turnover. At the other end of the court, Gantt ran off five straight points, including an old-fashioned three-point play to push the lead back to 52-38 with 14:27 left.
Louisiana fought back, using a dunk by Alan-Michael Thompson, another Mbamalu trey and one of two free throws by Elridge Moore to make it a 63-56 game with 7:43 to play.
The Cajuns would make another run, as Long connected on a foul line jumper and Mbamalu made a pair of free throws to make it a 69-65 game with 3:11 left.
The comeback would end there as a basket and two free throws by Gantt stifled the UL rally, never allowing the Cajuns a chance to pull closer down the stretch.
The Cajuns continue their trip through South Florida on Saturday, playing their second straight doubleheader of the season at FIU. The Cajun women's basketball team faces the Golden Panthers starting at 5:30 p.m. EST (4:30 in Lafayette) followed by the men's game at approximately 7:30 p.m. EST (6:30 in Lafayette).
LAGNIAPPE - This was only the eighth meeting all-time between Louisiana and Florida Atlantic with the series now standing tied at four games each . . the home court has been the difference in the series as the home team has now won seven of the eight meetings. . . Cajun head coach Bob Marlin opened with the lineup of Shawn Long (F), Elridge Moore (F), Bryant Mbamalu (G), Elfrid Payton (G) and Steven Wronkoski (G), a lineup that has started 10 of the 16 games. . . after Payton opened the game by scoring UL's first seven points, Long did that one better by scoring the next eight for the Cajuns. . . after not attempting a free throw in his first nine games, freshman Josh Soto had five attempts in a 32 second span late in the first half. . . Long entered the game ranked third nationally with eight double-doubles, trailing only Siena's O.D. Anosike (10) and Jack Cooley (9) from Notre Dame, but fell one rebound short.