LAFAYETTE – Freshman Mylik Wilson posted his second career double-double, scoring a game-high 17 points with 12 rebounds, and the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns withstood a late Arkansas State rally, converting on six free throws in the final 1:20 to claim a 73-66 victory in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championships on Saturday at the Cajundome.
Winning its second consecutive game for the first time since January, No. 8-seeded Louisiana (14-18) advanced to the second round where it will face fifth-seeded Georgia Southern (18-13) on Monday in Statesboro, Ga. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT.
Jalen Johnson notched a double-double for Louisiana with 16 points and 10 rebounds as the Ragin’ Cajuns placed five players in double figures and snapped a two-game postseason losing streak. Cedric Russell scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half with Trajan Wesley adding 11 points and Dou Gueye 10.
Arkansas State (16-16), the No. 9 seed, scored 10 straight points to take its biggest lead of the game after Gueye opened the game with a 3-pointer. Louisiana would answer with a 9-2 run to tie the game at 12-all, and took a 21-17 lead on a 3-pointer by Johnson.
Wilson, who was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year on Thursday, closed out the first half with a 3-pointer to give Louisiana a 40-37 lead at halftime and the Ragin’ Cajuns extended their lead to 46-37 on a pair of free throws by Johnson with 18:36 remaining.
The Red Wolves would storm back behind a 12-2 run as a follow-up dunk by Canberk Kus put A-State ahead, 49-48, with 13:51 remaining.
After a free throw by Marquis Eaton that gave the Red Wolves a 52-50 lead with 10:59 left, Louisiana would go on a decisive 11-0 run to take the lead for good. P.J. Hardy’s 3-pointer at the 9:30 mark have Louisiana a 54-52 lead before Gueye sank a pair of baskets and Johnson added three points to give the Ragin’ Cajuns a 61-52 lead.
Arkansas State twice got as close as one point, including 67-66 on Eaton’s floater in the lane with 53 seconds remaining, but Russell hit an off-balance jumper in the lane and added four free throws with 13.2 seconds remaining to seal the win.
The win by Louisiana, was its first Sun Belt Conference Championship victory in the Cajundome since an 81-65 win over Lamar in the 1998 semifinals.
Kus lead Arkansas State with 15 points while J.J. Matthews recorded a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Caleb Fields added 10 points for the Red Wolves while Eaton, who scored 28 in his previous game against the Ragin’ Cajuns on Feb. 26, was held to seven on 2 of 8 shooting.
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