Plenty of hurt for UL in Sun Belt tourney loss to UTA

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser
Frank Bartley IV scored a game-high 19 points in UL's Sun Belt Conference Tournament loss to Texas-Arlington on Saturday.

NEW ORLEANS — Starting center JaKeenan Gant was limited by illness and upper respiratory issues to nine minutes.

Starting power forward Bryce Washington played most of the game with plugs in both nostrils to stem the flow of a nosebleed, sustained when he took an elbow to the face on an early play that was ruled to be only a regular foul.

And sixth-man swingman Johnathan Stove, who according to coach Bob Marlin still is “not 100 percent,” played just five minutes because of a lingering high ankle sprain sustained a week-and-a-half ago.

One caveat Marlin has always attached to the Ragin’ Cajuns’ NCAA Tournament worthiness this season has been “if” they could stay healthy.

At the worst possible time, playing this weekend in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, they have not been — and it bit the Cajuns badly Saturday.

Top-seeded UL fell 71-68 to No. 4 seed Texas-Arlington in a semifinal-round game at Lakefront Arena here, dropping the Cajuns to 27-6 and — with their NCAA Tournament hopes all but officially dashed — relegating them instead to what they anticipate will be an NIT appearance as a conference regular-season champion that didn’t make it to the big dance.

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One possible first-round NIT matchup for UL, among many: LSU.

Before thinking about what’s next however, the Cajuns had to relive what just was — and as he did after Saturday’s loss, Marlin didn’t sound pleased by what went against his club.

“I’m proud of our team,” he said, after losing to the 21-12 Mavericks.

“And I’m not gonna let a couple of bad breaks in the last minute take away from my love for this basketball team, and what they’ve accomplished over the past year.”

UL played the game’s final one minute and 19 seconds without starting point guard Marcus Stroman.

He fouled out, UTA’s Kaelon Wilson hit both free throws stemming from Stroman’s fifth to make it 69-68 and the Mavs led the rest of the way.

Wilson was fouled after rebounding a miss by Kevin Hervey, who had rebounded an Erick Neal missed 3-pointer.

“At the end of the game, we just had to break away like we usually do at the end of the second half,” UL big man Justin Miller said, “and we just couldn’t get the stops, and the offensive boards (were) killing us.”

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UTA out-rebounded UL 40-31.

“I thought we had the game in control,” said Marlin, whose Cajuns had taken a 68-67 lead late.

“They call a foul on Marcus Stroman, his fifth foul, which I didn’t see. We would have possession of the basketball up one with a minute and 19 to go. So, from that standpoint it’s disappointing.”

Perhaps no one was more disappointed, though, than Washington, the Sun Belt’s rebounding leader this season.

He finished with an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double on a day Frank Bartley IV had a team-high 19 points, Miller had 14 and Malik Marquetti added 11.

But Hervey finished with 11 boards and Wilson eight.

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“They got the big rebounds,” Washington said, “and that’s my fault.

“(They) wanted it more than me, and that’s the worst part that hurts. Because my one job is to rebound.

“That’s the one spark that could have had a difference-making on the game, and that’s not what a senior leader does,” Washington added. “But that’s life, and you just learn from it.”

Even after Stroman exited, UL had chances.

With 52 seconds left, Marquetti missed an awkward jumper.

Neal, who finished with a team-high 18 points missed a trey try on the other end, but Wilson, who scored 17 and later was given a tip of the hat by Washington, got the rebound, and Hervey was intentionally fouled a few minutes later by Miller.

Hervey hit both of his freebies to make it 71-68, giving UL 10.9 seconds to race up the floor and go for the tie to force overtime.

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“I thought Cedric had a good look at it, and then Bryce made a great effort to get an offensive rebound and dribble to the 3-point line and had a chance for that one to go. But they got the breaks. They got the whistles the last couple minutes. That was the difference.”

With Stroman on the bench, Marquetti handled the ball and got it to freshman Cedric Russell for a 3-point attempt that missed the mark.

Washington got the rebound and put up a trey try of his own, but it too failed to fall.

“That’s where we really needed Marcus (Stroman), and we didn’t have him,” said Marlin, whose Cajuns were 2-for-13 on long-distance shots in the second half. “Malik (Marquetti) went, and then we wanted to kick it for a 3.

“I felt like Ced (Russell) could have made one more pass to Justin (Miller) at the top. I thought he was open. But in a hurry situation like that, sometimes it’s hard to make the extra pass — something our team has really been good at all year.”

On a day little went well for UL, the bad breaks at the end amounted to insult on top of the injuries.

“But we fought,” Marlin said, “and I really liked the way our guys competed.”