Mar 8, 2014 11:43 PM by UL Sports Information
JONESBORO, Ark. - Elfrid Payton sank a go-ahead 3-pointer with 11.9 seconds left and the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns reached the 20-win mark for the first time since the 2002-03 season as it rallied past Arkansas State, 77-76, in a Sun Belt Conference game on Saturday at the Convocation Center.
Payton, who overcame a 3-for-9 performance at the free throw line, scored the last eight points for Louisiana (20-11, 11-7 SBC), which trailed 57-46 with 12:28 remaining in the game. Payton's game-winning bucket came after Ed Townsel missed a jumper with ASU (18-12, 10-8 SBC) holding a 76-74 lead.
The win clinched the No. 3 seed for Louisiana in next week's Sun Belt Conference Tournament that begins on Thursday at New Orleans' Lakefront Arena. The Cajuns, who posted their 22nd 20-win season in school history, will open play on Friday at 8:30 p.m., against the winner of Thursday's contes+t between No. 6 UT Arlington and No. 7 ULM,
"We hung in there and won a big game tonight for third place," head coach Bob Marlin said. "We played good defense in the second half, even though they (ASU) hit some really tough shots. We fought through it, rallied and had a chance to take the lead. We made some big plays on defense and hit some big shots. I'm really proud of this group."
ASU led 76-69 on a three-point play by Melvin Johnson III with 1:51 remaining in the game before the Cajuns took over. Payton drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key before putting in his own miss to cut the lead to 76-74 with 1:04 left.
Townsel then missed a short jumper for the Red Wolves that was rebounded by Shawn Long and the Cajuns worked for the final shot as Payton drilled his second 3-pointer of the game from the left wing.
The Red Wolves had one last chance to make the game-winner, but Rakeem Dickerson missed a layup and Bryant Mbamalu came up with the rebound to seal the Cajuns' second one-point road victory in league play.
Arkansas State opened the game with a 9-2 run that was capped by a layup by Kirk Van Slyke with 16:05 remaining. The Cajuns responded with a 10-1 run to take their first lead of the game as a 3-pointer by Mbamalu gave Louisiana a 12-10 lead with 13:17 remaining.
Both teams traded buckets before a 3-pointer by Johnson would give the Red Wolves an 18-17 lead with 8:37 remaining. That opened an 11-2 run for the Red Wolves as Johnson added a pair of 3-pointers and a pair of free throws for a 26-19 lead with 6:32 remaining.
The Red Wolves led 38-31 on a pair of free throws by Townsel with 55 seconds remaining in the first half before the Cajuns cut the deficit to 38-35 at halftime after a pair of free throws and a jumper by Payton.
Louisiana used an 8-2 run to start the second half to take a 43-40 lead as Long tipped in his own miss before Xavian Rimmer and Kevin Brown each hit 3-pointers. But the Red Wolves would answer with a 10-0 run that was aided by consecutive four-point plays by Townsel and Dickerson.
Arkansas State eventually took its biggest lead of the night, 57-46, when Kendrick Washington scored on a jumper with 12:28 remaining before the Ragin' Cajuns mounted a comeback. Mbamalu and Rimmer each scored on layups to start a 14-3 run before Rimmer added a 3-pointer and Long scored five straight points, including a 3-pointer, which tied the game at 60-60 with 9:44 left.
The Cajuns trailed 71-69 when J.J. Davenport tipped in his own missed attempt with 3:05 remaining before Johnson scored the next five points for the Red Wolves, capped by his three-point play.
Long scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for his 16th double-double of the season and 34th of his Louisiana career. Payton added 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists as the Ragin' Cajuns finished 28-for-61 from the floor and 9-for-24 from behind the 3-point line.
Johnson scored 28 points to lead the Red Wolves with Townsel adding 23. Washington grabbed 11 rebounds for Arkansas State, which shot 13-for-25 (52 percent) in the second half and finished 25-for-57 (43.0 percent) for the game.