Cajuns Advance to SBC Championship Game With 66-57 Win Over Troy
For the first time since 2014, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns men's basketball team has advanced to the Sun Belt Tournament Championship Game after they beat the Troy Trojans 66-57.
With the win, Louisiana is now 16-14 this season. They have won six of their last seven games, and they are only one win away from a conference championship and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Assistant coach Derrick Zimmerman explained what the coaching staff told the team heading into the semifinal meeting.
"We've been stressing to the guys about limiting turnovers and hanging our hats on the defensive side of the ball," Zimmerman said. "Troy is an excellent team with defensive pressure. We told our guys it would be a game of runs. We had some guys step up tonight. I'm just so proud of these guys. We've got one more game."
Louisiana's defense was excellent all night, and their pressure started from the opening tip. Troy started 1-10 from the field, and they went on a six-minute scoring drought. The Cajuns took an early 10-2 lead behind four points from forward Theo Akwuba.
Troy ended their streak of eight straight missed shots with a jumper, and the Trojans came away with a steal and slam dunk right afterwards. Louisiana had four turnovers in two minutes to keep Troy in the game. Cajuns guard Kentrell Garnett ended Troy's 6-0 run with his first three-pointer.
Jordan Brown picked up his second foul in the first half and exited the game. Both teams struggled for a stretch, but Akwuba scored his sixth point on a put-back shot. Troy hit a three to cut the Cajun lead to 15-12.
Greg Williams Jr. nailed two straight shots, including a three-pointer to keep Louisiana in front.
An Akwuba shot and a pair of free throws by guard Trajan Wesley brought the lead to 28-22, but Troy hit two free throws. The Cajuns cleaned up the turnovers, but it was an ugly finish to the half by both teams. Both sides missed their last four shot attempts. Louisiana went over three minutes without a field goal, and Troy's drought was even worse at nearly five minutes. The Cajuns still took a 29-24 lead into the halftime break.
Williams had 10 points to lead the Cajuns, and Akwuba added eight. Brown, who had gotten into early foul trouble, only played seven minutes in the first half.
Troy got within four points at the start of the second half, but guard Michael Thomas got a steal and assisted a three-pointer by guard Jalen Dalcourt. On the next possession, Brown got a steal, and forward Dou Gueye earned a three-point play. Louisiana's lead ballooned to 37-27. Troy called a timeout to attempt to stop the momentum swing.
Williams drilled a big three off of an inbounds pass, and Dalcourt got a steal on the defensive end. It was Brown's turn to join in with a field goal, and the Cajuns lead was 42-29 after they hit four straight shot attempts.
Troy missed three straight three-pointers, and the Cajuns continued to take advantage. Dalcourt rebounded his own miss with a put-back, and Wesley converted a layup. Louisiana's lead expanded to 17-points at 46-29, but Brown was called for his fourth foul and went to the bench with 13 minutes remaining.
A three-pointer ended a five-minute drought without a field goal for Troy. Because they had made free throws in that time, it became a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 10 points. Forward Joe Charles ended that run with two free throws.
Akwuba broke a string of six straight missed shots with a three-point play after he was fouled on a jumper. Meanwhile, Troy missed six shots following the three-pointer that got them within 10. Akwuba scored again, and the lead was back out to 17 points for the Cajuns at 53-36.
Both teams traded free throws, and Troy continued to miss three-point attempts. A layup by Wesley made it 60-44 in favor of Louisiana at the last official's timeout with just over three minutes left.
Troy converted two free throws and finally hit two straight three-pointers for an 8-0 run in just over a minute of game time. Louisiana's lead diminished to single digits, but Brown made a big layup.
The Cajuns hit their clutch free throws, and they advanced to the Sun Belt Tournament Championship Game with a 66-57 victory.
Louisiana was outstanding defensively again. The Trojans were held to 33% shooting as a team, and they were only 4-21 from three-point range. The Cajuns had seven steals and three blocks in the game.
Offensively, Williams had 16 points and Akwuba finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. The Cajuns as a team were excellent from the free throw line, converting 20 of their 22 attempts at the stripe in the victory.
Up next, Louisiana plays in the Sun Belt Tournament Championship Game with a ticket to the NCAA Tournament on the line. They'll face the winner of tonight's game between Appalachian State and Georgia State. *TO BE UPDATED*