Theo Akwuba scored a team-high 13 points to lead three players in double figures and the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns Men’s Basketball team locked up the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt West Division after posting a 66-61 win over Little Rock in the opener of a two-game series on Friday at Jack Stephens Center.
Freshman Ty Harper added 12 points while Mylik Wilson had 11 as Louisiana (16-7, 10-6 Sun Belt) secured a first-round bye after Arkansas State dropped a last-second 73-71 contest at UT Arlington. Louisiana will be the No. 2 seed in the West Division in next week’s Sun Belt Conference Championships which will be played March 5-8 in Pensacola, Fla.
Dou Gueye grabbed a team-high nine rebounds and dished out a game-high four assists as the Ragin’ Cajuns won their third straight game while holding Little Rock (10-14, 6-11 Sun Belt) to 33 percent from the floor.
Louisiana trailed 9-2 with 16:17 remaining in the first half before a pair of buckets by Harper and a free by Akwuba helped close the gap. A pair of free throws by Harper along with a 3-pointer by Devin Butts would give Louisiana a 16-12 lead with 7:28 remaining in the first half before the Trojans would rally to claim a 23-20 lead at the break.
Akwuba, who finished 6-for-8 from the floor and grabbed seven rebounds before fouling out with 3:31 remaining, gave Louisiana the lead for good (28-27) with a putback dunk at the 17:34 mark.
Cedric Russell sank consecutive 3-pointers that extended Louisiana’s lead to 41-32 and Kobe Julien’s jumper with 11:10 remaining pushed the Ragin’ Cajuns lead to 43-33.
Julien, making his 2020-21 debut after being sidelined for the past 47 games due to injury, answered a Little Rock run with a 3-pointer that gave Louisiana a 47-40 lead with 9:02 left before Butts added a second 3-pointer for a 50-40 advantage at the 8:11 mark.
Louisiana, which led by as many as 13 points in the second half, overcame a sluggish first half where it went 8-for-30 from the floor. The Ragin’ Cajuns went 17-for-33 in the second half and finished 25-for-63 (39.7 percent) overall.
Defensively, Louisiana held Little Rock to 7-for-28 from the floor in the opening half and 18-for-55 (32.7 percent) overall. The Ragin’ Cajuns forced 17 turnovers while outscoring the Trojans, 46-38, in the second half.
Russell scored nine points for Louisiana while Julien added six points with a pair of rebounds and a steal in 14 minutes off the bench.
Little Rock’s Ben Coupet, Jr., scored 18 points to lead all scorers with Nikola Maric adding 14 and Marko Lukic 11. Ruot Monyyong posted a double-double for the Trojans.
The teams will close out the regular-season on Saturday in a 4 p.m., contest. The game will be available on ESPN+ with fans able to listen to the game in the Lafayette area on Classic Rock 105.1 FM.
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