Cajuns miss Gant's presence in Sun Belt tourney loss
NEW ORLEANS — He was limited by illness to just a few minutes in UL’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinal-round win over Texas State on Friday.
By Saturday, the top-seeded Ragin’ Cajuns figured starting center JaKeenan Gant would be just fine.
He was not.
Gant, the Sun Belt’s Newcomer of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, wound up playing just nine minutes in UL’s 71-68 semifinal-round loss to Texas-Arlington.
Dealing with upper-respiratory issues, Gant — a transfer from Missouri who is the league’s leading shot-blocker this season — had just three points, one rebound and no blocks.
More:Plenty of hurt for UL in Sun Belt tourney loss to UTA
On Friday, Cajuns coach Bob Marlin said, “We knew he was winded.”
“We were gonna take him out — I think he played two or three minutes — and then he started coughing, and couldn’t stop coughing,” Marlin said. “So it became a scare for me.
“Then we had another doctor come over from Lafayette (Friday) night, and had some additional medicine for him, and felt like he was good.
“(Saturday) morning he ate, he worked out. Before the game in warmups, he looked good. Had a good sweat going,” the Cajuns coach added. “But he just didn’t have it, and (we) worried that it could turn into something else, too.”
That’s why Gant did not play at all in Saturday’s second half.
More:UL's NCAA plans spoiled after Sun Belt Tournament loss to UTA
“You know,” Marlin said, “I’ll sacrifice a game for the safety of a young man any day.”
Backup big man Justin Miller, who had 14 points when Gant was limited Friday, scored another 14 Saturday.
But the Cajuns did miss Gant, suggested Marlin, who thought the 14.2-points-per-game scorer could have helped on both ends of the floor.
“It affected our rotation,” he said, “not having him out there.”
UTA advanced to face Georgia State, which beat Georgia Southern later Saturday, in Sunday’s Sun Belt tourney title game.
More:Sun Belt Basketball Championship scoreboard
Miller finished 6-of-14 from the field Saturday, but after shooting 3-of-5 from 3-point range against Texas State the sophomore was 0-for-6 from long distance against Texas State.
He shouldered much burden after the loss.
“I just felt like because ‘Ke’ (Gant) was out I had to do what I had to do for the team,” Miller said, “and I took some ill-advised shots that I shouldn’t have (taken), and I, we, just couldn’t get it done.”
More:Miller's shining moment comes amid season of sacrifice
The 2018 Sun Belt Tournament has not been kind to conference coaches.
Little Rock fired Wes Flanigan after a 7-25 season, and South Alabama fired Matthew Graves after he went 14-18.
Graves lasted five seasons in Mobile, all under .500.
Flanigan was let go after two seasons, and despite last-place Little Rock handing UL its only home loss of 2017-18 in the Cajuns’ final game of the regular season.