Jan 13, 2013 3:42 PM by UL Sports Information
LAFAYETTE, La. -- Shawn Long scored 17 points and added 16 rebounds and freshman Kasey Shepherd celebrated his first start by scoring a career-high 13 points as Louisiana fought off Arkansas State, 61-56, on Saturday night in the Cajundome.
The Cajuns played without starter Bryant Mbamalu and key reserve Alan-Michael Thompson, who were both out with injuries suffered on Thursday vs. South Florida.
The victory avenges an 87-70 loss by the Cajuns (7-12, 3-5 SBC) at ASU on Dec. 27 and allows UL to split the season series with the Red Wolves (10-7, 4-4). Louisiana moves past UL-Monroe (2-5) and into third place in the Sun Belt west division, two games behind first place UALR (5-3).
"This was a gutty performance tonight," Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin said. "We knew going into the game that we were going to be short-handed and we knew that we needed somebody to step up and replace the production that we lost and our freshman (Shepherd & Josh Soto) did just that.
"This was a battle. They beat us pretty good a couple of weeks ago but we were intent on stopping them this time, even though we were tired after going double overtime against South Alabama on Thursday night."
The game was a grind from start to finish as both teams contested every shot, rebound and loose ball during the game and although the Cajuns led for the final 35 minutes, they were never neither comfortably ahead or in danger of losing the lead.
Outside of sophomore Elfrid Payton, the only Cajun from the 2011-12 season to play in the game who scored 13 points with five rebounds and four assists, the night belong to the Louisiana freshmen.
The five freshmen that played in the game were responsible for 43 of the 61 Cajun points and 28 of their 36 rebounds.
Long, a redshirt freshman, caught fire late in the first half battled his way to his 10th double-double of the season, tops in the Sun Belt and among the top six nationally.
Shepherd recorded the first double-figure scoring game of his career, going four-for-eight from the field, including a three-for-five effort from three-point, to total 13 points. He also grabbed a career-best seven rebounds and handed out three assists while playing a career-high 38 minutes, twice his old high of 19 minutes set against both Lamar and FIU this year.
"I thought to myself late in the game, ‘Hey, I haven't come out yet this half,' which was fine with me," Shepherd said.
Trey Finn led the Red Wolves with 15 points with Cameron Golden and Raeford Worsham coming off the bench to score 13 and 12 points, respectively.
The defensive effort by Payton and Shepherd on ASU guard Ed Townsel may have been the difference. In the first meeting, Townsel lit up UL for 31 points. With Payton focused on shutting him down, Townsel, who was fourth in the league with a 16.5 scoring average going into the game, scored just one point in 11 minutes. He missed all four field goal attempts, including a pair of three-point efforts, and was one-for-two from the line.
After leading 57-45 with 5:23 left, Louisiana couldn't put the Red Wolves away.
Finn scored four points during a 5-0 ASU run that made it a 59-54 game with 1:58 left. The Red Wolves had chances, committing one turnover and missing their last five field goal attempts in the game. The Cajuns weren't much better, going two-for-six from the line in the last 1:58, just enough to secure the win.
"I thought going into the last two minutes that it was a two-possession game and if we made just a couple of free throws, we could lock up the win. We gave them some chances because that's all we did, but we made up for it at the defensive end by giving them no easy shots," Marlin said.
Foul trouble hurt both teams in the first half as each respective bench was forced to log heavy minutes as the teams combined to have nine players with two or more fouls.
With the game tied at 7-7 (14:35), the Cajuns ran off eight straight points on back-to-back treys by Soto and Shepherd and a pair of free throws by Shepherd to take a 15-7 lead (12:34).
Arkansas State would fight back, tying the game at 19-19 on one of two free throws by Ed Townsel at the 7:32 mark. A three-point play by Payton keyed a 6-0 Cajun run that put UL ahead for good, and six straight points, including three from Long, to close the half put the Cajuns ahead, 33-24 at the break.
The lead marked the first time that Louisiana led at the intermission since a 37-19 lead vs. Lamar on Dec. 11, a span of 10 games.
The Cajuns continue their league slate next week, traveling to Bowling Green, Ky. to face WKU on Thursday (Jan. 17) at 7:00 p.m. in Diddle Arena. Louisiana then takes on Middle Tennessee on Saturday (Jan. 19) at 5:30 p.m. before returning home for a pair of games.