RJ Hunter, Georgia State Eliminate UL From Sun Belt Tournament
Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns defeated Georgia State to claim last year's Sun Belt Championship. This year, it was the Panthers' turn to send their budding rival packing.
RJ Hunter heated up early for Georgia State, and Cajun Nation's least favorite player absolutely lit them up in the 83-79 defeat. He was over double-digits before the 10:00 mark, and he finished the first half with a whopping 19 points. By the time the game was finished, he ended with 32 points (11-22 FG, 3-7 3pt, 7-8 FT), but he wasn't the only reason the Cajuns won't be playing in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game.
The offense got off to a sloppy start, and it cost UL dearly. They did a solid job of fighting down the stretch, but the hill was too steep to climb, trailing 44-27 at halftime. Director of Basketball Operations Mike Murphy felt like they fell into the Panther's tempo trap.
"Those turnovers were caused because we were playing too fast," Murphy said postgame. "They took those turovers and turned them into points."
The Panthers had 29 points off turnovers, to be exact. They led by as much as 24 points in the second half by getting easy buckets off Cajun mistakes. It's hard to defeat your opponent when you keep handing them the ball in convenient setups.
Lead ref Ray Acosta and his crew dished out a total of 42 fouls (21 on both teams) in a very physical grudge match, but the game style still got to the Cajuns. They committed 21 turnovers and generally struggled to develop any rhythm of flow. A 23-9 run around the 3:00 mark of the second half cut the Panthers lead to nine, but the surge was too little and far too late.
"This was a hell of a comeback, we just ran out of time," Coach Murphy said.
It could be the last time Shawn Long ever suits up for the Ragin' Cajuns. His memories of Lakefront Arena might take a while to forget. After struggling mightily against Texas State (6 pts, 2-7 FG, 0-1 3pt), Long was limited against Georgia State to only four field goal attempts. The talented big man could only muster ten points as the Panthers forced the Cajuns to beat them with somebody else. While RJ Hunter gave NBA scouts a little film to ponder, Long's potential final audition lacked the same flair.
The shots were falling at the end of the game for the Cajuns, and they ended the game with the exact same amount of made and missed field goals as Georgia State (27-56, 48.2%). Devonta Walker posted 16 points (5-8 FG, 7-8 FT) and nine boards, and Kasey Shepherd contributed 16 points (5-11 FG, 4-8 3pt) to try to fill the void left by Long and Jay Wright (5 points, 2-7 FG).
Despite the loss, there were still moments to make a coach proud. With all the opportunity to quit, they didn't. They just came up short.
It's the end of the road for the Cajuns in the Sun Belt Tournament, but Coach Murphy wanted to be clear about one thing: they're not done playing. They might not know where yet, but their season won't end in Lakefront Arena.
"We're going to play in the postseason," Murphy said. "The light at the end of the tunnel is not the train."