Plenty of talking points for Ragin' Cajuns guard Stroman

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

Marcus Stroman leads the Sun Belt Conference in assists this season at 6.7 per game, a whopping 1.8 more than next-closest Tookie Brown of Georgia Southern.

He leads the league in steals too.

But long before the 2018-19 campaign got underway, UL coach Bob Marlin had a chat with his starting point guard about a different subject.

It was the one about wanting, and needing, him to score more.

With UL losing a combined 38.3 points per game from No. 1 scorer Frank Bartley, No. 3 scorer Bryce Washington and No. 4 scorer Johnathan Stove alone — all were seniors last season — Stroman understood.

Just one problem.

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Senior point guard Marcus Stroman drives to the basket for UL against Arkansas State earlier this month.

“Unfortunately,” Marlin, whose 11-7 Cajuns play host Thursday night to South Alabama and Saturday night to Troy, said a few months back, “(distributing the ball) is in his DNA — and he wants to pass. Maybe it’s fortunate it’s in his DNA. But he looks for the pass first.”

No player on the Cajun roster gets that better than forward JaKeenan Gant, UL’s No. 2 scorer last season and No. 1 this season.

The two first played as teammates on a Georgia-based AAU team when they were young teenagers, and they were reunited after Gant first transferred from Missouri to UL in 2016 and Stroman followed by transferring from South Carolina, where he played two seasons.

Being paired with a point he knows so well is huge for Gant, who is averaging 20.5 points per game this season and a Sun Belt-high 30.6 points over five league games.

One often knows where the other will be and what they’ll do before even the other does.

“It makes it easy,” Gant said, “just being in the right spot.

“I know if you run, he’s gonna find you. He’s always looking for his teammates, so he’s always gonna make that play. He’s never been a score-first point guard, or nothing like that.”

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Yet, therein lies the rub.


Last season, when Stroman averaged 6.5 assists (second in the Sun Belt) and 6.8 points per game, it didn’t really matter how much the Cajun point scored.

Bartley, Washington, Gant, Stove, Malik Marquetti and Justin Miller all took care of that.

“I knew what we had last year,” said Stroman, who averaged 4.3 points and 3.1 assists in 20.5 minutes per game over 29 games as an SEC freshman at South Carolina followed by 2.3 and 1.3 in 14.8 minutes as a sophomore. “I didn’t have to score.”

But with Bartley, Washington and Stove all exiting, Stroman — now a senior himself — also knew there would be a bigger burden on him this time around.

That need was magnified when Marquetti, averaging 15.1 ppg at the time, sustained a season-ending knee injury in a win over Southeastern Louisiana late last month.

So Stroman responded.

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He’s raised his average from 6.8 last season to 12.2 now, which with Marquetti outranks second only to Gant among active UL scorers.

Back in November, he scored 26 in a non-conference win over Tulane — 10 more than his prior career-high.

And in a Sun Belt-opening loss to Arkansas State earlier this month, two games after Marquetti went down, he scored 25.

“I see the pieces we have now,” Stroman said, “and I have to do a little bit more scoring, and I’m just taking advantage of that.

“Once Malik went out … I was like, ‘Yo, it’s going to be a chance for me to show others I can score, too.’”

That’s fine by Marlin, who also realizes that — especially with Marquetti lost, and even with Gant and Stroman going on the offensive end — the Cajuns need additional help.

“If we can continue to get other guys to make shots with them,” he said recently, “then we should be able to win some more basketball games.”

The support group, however, has been hit-and-miss for UL this season.

P.J. Hardy, for instance, had 11 against Arkansas State, 12 in a win over Georgia Southern and a career-high 24 in a 99-95 loss at UL Monroe last Saturday, but he’s had 3 points or fewer, including a scoreless game at Georgia State, in the Cajuns’ other two SBC outings.

Jerekius Davis had 17 in the win at Georgia Southern, then 4 in the loss at ULM.

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Stroman’s first choice is keep the hot hand going, no matter who has it.

But when the shooters around him aren’t making shots, Stroman said, “that’s when I’m gonna be more aggressive.”

Sometimes they are hitting, sometimes they’re not.

Sometimes Stroman won’t shy from taking it to the hole, but more frequently he prefers to dish.


With all that in mind, and even if his teammates’ shots are falling, it may be imperative that Stroman score more down the stretch this season — and, perhaps more importantly, that he simply take what’s there when it’s available — if the Cajuns are to improve on last season’s NIT appearance.

With Gant scoring 19 or more in each of UL’s five Sun Belt games this season, including a career-high 45 in a Jan. 5 win over Little Rock, it hasn’t seemed to matter as much lately.

But with UL losing to ULM despite Gant’s 31 and losing the prior week at Georgia State despite Gant’s 36, the need seemingly indeed is there for more point production from Stroman.

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And Gant, for one, knows he’s capable. Cajun coaches know the same.

“Some of them said when he’s around the rim, he’s got to lay it up,” Gant said. “He’s got to take more shots around the 3(-point line); he’s got to shoot at least three 3s a game.

“He’s just got to be aggressive with finding his shot. And he can do that. He can score around the rim. He’s got floaters and everything. He’s just wanting to pass it.”

That’s almost always been the selfless mindset.

“The passing comes natural,” Stroman said, “so just scoring is the main adjustment.”

Which is why Marlin and Stroman had they preseason talk they did.

That conversation was preceded by another one early last year, when Washington and UL’s other senior leaders were still around.

“We worked with him last (season),” Marlin said of Stroman.

“Bryce (Washington) and I talked in late January, and in February and March. We tried to pass some of that leadership on to him, knowing that we were going to need it this year.”

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Stroman — a product of Keenan High in Columbia, South Carolina — stepped up in that regard.

“He took over,” Marlin said, “and was more vocal late last season.”

That’s bled into this season.

The same can be said for the on-court presence of Gant, who has flourished with the point he first got to know back in their AAU days.

“We talk all the time about what we’ve got to do to win,” Gant said, “and what’s going to happen during the games and stuff like that.

“We talk every game, every day to be honest, about situations on ball screens, what’s going to happen with who — just trying to figure it out.”

All the talk, it seems, has helped to put Stroman in the right frame of mind as UL embarks on its final 13 conference games before Sun Belt Tournament play opens in mid-March.

And it’s hardly all about scoring.

“I believe he’s in a good place,” Marlin said this week.

“I got onto him last week about taking care of the basketball, and reminded him Saturday morning — and he has 12 assists and one turnover (at ULM). … Defensively, he has to continue to get better; he’s asked to guard the best guard each night, like (Marquetti) was before he was injured.

“So he’s important to what we’re doing,” Marlin added, “and we need him to play at a high level.”

Which may be the biggest talking point of all.


UL (11-7, 2-3 in the Sun Belt) vs. SOUTH ALABAMA (9-10, 2-4)

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

WHERE: Cajundome (12,362)

RADIO: KHXT 107.9 FM with Jay Walker (play-by-play) and Ross Cook (color)

INTERNET: ESPN+ with Dan McDonald (play-by-play) and Eric Mouton (color)

UL LEADERS: JaKeenan Gant, 20.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 3.1 bpg; Marcus Stroman, 12.2 ppg, 6.7 apg;

Justin Miller, 10.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg

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