Cajun's Hoops Falls to Middle Tennessee

Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns men's basketball fell to preseason favorite Middle Tennessee 72-58 in the Cajun Dome last night.

Middle Tennessee took advantage of two extended Louisiana scoring lapses to grab an early lead atop the Sun Belt Conference standings with a 72-58 victory at the Cajundome Thursday.

Louisiana (2-5, 0-1) was led by Shawn Long, whose dominant inside presence and double-double performance threatened to tilt fortunes in favor of the home team. Steven Wronkoski bombed for 13 points while Bryant Mbamalu and Elfrid Payton each added 11.

MT (5-1, 1-0) got balanced scoring from its starters and its bench as James Gallman scored 14, Marcos Knight added 12, Jason Jones contributed 11 and Tweety Knight finished with 10 points.

"Our starters outscored their starters 55-36," commented Cajuns mentor Bob Marlin following the tough loss. "Their strength is their inside game and we totally took it away from them."

But Marlin lamented the fact that the visitors' bench contributed 36 points while the Cajuns got only a three pointer from its bench.

"They made threes and beat us, and we shake their hands. That's what they did," Marlin added.

Clearly, this was a disappointing loss for Marlin whose team took its opponent out of its game and forced it to shoot the outside shot.

Yet, on the eve of final exams, with perhaps more pressing concerns on their minds, the Cajun roundballers had an opportunity to win it.

The Cajuns and Blue Raiders jockeyed for the lead in the first eight minutes of the opening half, but it was Jones' hoop and harm at 11:12 that gave the visitors the lead that they would keep for the rest of the period.

A three-pointer from Cintron at the 6:29 mark helped Middle Tennessee open up a seven-point advantage that it managed to maintain.

A three minute scoring drought seemingly sealed the Cajuns' fate until Mbamalu and Payton offered up buckets in the final minute and a half.

Matt Moss nailed a trey at the buzzer to make the score somewhat respectable as the Cajuns exited the floor down, 38-32.

The Cajuns were four-of-four from the line in the first half, and field-shot even with their Sun Belt mates, but the Blue Raiders took 11 trips to the charity stripe, making 9 of those shots.

In total, the visitors went to the line twice as often, and the poor officiating drew the ire of fans. (See editor's note)

Louisiana returned from the dressing room with renewed purpose as Wronkoski rainbowed a pair of threes to draw the Cajuns closer before Payton dribble-penetrated the lane and finger-rolled a deuce into the trap to tie the game at 42 four minutes removed.

Long, playing like a man possessed, contributed the next six points for the Cajuns, thunder-dunking twice and putting back a miss to give the home squad a 48-47 lead.

Massey, Cintron and Gallman quickly vaporized that lead, however. The more experienced visitors took advantage of Cajun defensive miscues to build a 10 point margin as the scoreboard clock dwindled and the Cajuns suffered through another scoring lapse.

The lapse proved fatal as the visitors easily outdistanced the Cajuns.

In the end, two bad scoring droughts doomed the Cajuns, who return to action December 1 at North Texas.

Editor's note: Two of the visitors' first half free throws came courtesy of a questionable technical foul called on Marlin, who was merely complaining about the inequities in the first stanza calls. The officials allowed the Blue Raiders to push and grab to their hearts' content, and Marlin was right to point that out.

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