Three-game Cajuns streak sparked by Miller, loss at ULM
It’s been suggested that UL’s Feb. 8 win over Georgia State, the start of what now is a three-game win streak, could be the driving force behind a successful run into and through the postseason for coach Bob Marlin’s Ragin’ Cajuns.
The play of leading scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker JaKeenan Gant also surely would have a lot to do with it as would point guard and Sun Belt Conference assists-leader Marcus Stroman’s production.
But if things do pan out for Marlin's club, the true impetus may date back much farther than that — and to an additional Cajun as well.
Back on Jan. 19, UL lost 99-95 at UL Monroe. Junior big man Justin Miller, a usual starter at the time, had seven points but just three rebounds. The Cajuns fell to 11-7, and Miller started a five-game stretch in which he came off the bench.
“He struggled a little bit in conference play early, and to be honest his worst game of the year was at Monroe,” Marlin said of Miller, who is averaging 9.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. “He didn’t play well in that game, and that’s (something) we reminded him of last week.”
“He (Miller) wants to prove he’ll do what’s needed to win,” the Cajuns coach said, “and right now that’s rebounding and defense and scoring inside.”
Asked and answered.
Since that fateful ULM game, the Cajuns have won 5-of-8, including Thursday night’s 76-64 victory at Texas-Arlington.
Now, as it heads into Saturday’s game at 21-6 Sun Belt co-leader Texas State, UL is tied for fifth with ULM in the league standings, just 2.5 games back of the Bobcats and fellow co-leader Georgia State with five games still to go in the 2018-19 regular season.
And during the Cajuns’ current three-game streak, one that’s lifted UL to 16-10 overall, Miller has been on a rebounding tear.
Against Georgia State at the Cajundome, he returned to the starting lineup and pulled down 13 boards to help UL snap a three-game losing streak.
In the Cajuns’ next outing, a win one week later, he had 12 rebounds in UL’s rematch at home with ULM.
And at UTA on Thursday he posted his fourth double-double of the season, grabbing 12 boards to go with his 15 points.
So whether it’s going to the floor to snatch a loose ball or cleaning the glass, the dirty work suits Miller just fine.
Whether it’s picking up some of the scoring slack when needed or making a fancy pass down low, Miller is more than willing to try it.
And whether it’s starting or subbing in, Miller, the tournament MVP when Owensboro High won a Kentucky state championship in 2015, will do it. After starting as a true freshman, in fact, he played an off-the-bench role following Gant's arrival at UL last season.
“I’m just gonna do whatever it takes to win,” he said after a win over South Alabama late last month.
“That’s all Coach Marlin has asked me to do, and that’s what I need to do, and I need to be more consistent at it as well.”
Miller also realizes that the Cajuns’ loss in Monroe was something of a turning point — not just for him, but for his team, too.
After the win over South Al, he put that into perspective — discussing how important it was after the loss to Warhawks that everyone be on the proverbial same page.
“We’re tired of that feeling coming into practice and everybody is mad at everybody for not playing the way we needed to play,” he said at the time.
“And that was on us at ULM. We didn’t come out ready to play, and wanted to come out and show the coaches that we’ve been locked in since that loss.”
Gant also said the Cajuns were “clicking” better and that they were “trusting each other more.”
Those words — Gant’s and Miller’s — seem even more apropos now.
And it shows.
A couple days after the rematch win over ULM, Marlin said “it’s definitely a lighter mood in practice.”
On the game floor, the Cajuns have come to realize that it takes more than a dime-dishing point and a high-scoring, shot-swatting forward.
The Cajuns, Miller suggested, must remember and take advantage of that when needed.
“The whole focal point for the opposing team has got to be to stop Marcus (Stroman) and to stop JaKeenan (Gant),” he said after the win over Georgia State.
“So, whenever that happens I feel like people don’t really pay attention to the three guys that can really go out and get about 12-to-15 any game.”
Miller, Cedric Russell, P.J. Hardy and Jerekius Davis all are more than capable of knocking down shots, too — and each is needed if UL indeed is to make a run.
That, perhaps, was never more apparent than in the Cajuns’ win at UTA.
Gant, a 20.6 points-per-game scorer, was limited to 11 and Stroman, who averages 11.8, four.
But Davis led the way with 19, including 5-for-7 shooting from 3-point range. Russell scored 14. Hardy had nine, all on 3-pointers.
And Miller had his double-double, proof positive that the willing is able and the Cajuns may not be positioned like they are if he weren’t.
RAGIN’ CAJUNS BASKETBALL
UL (16-10, 7-6 in the Sun Belt) at TEXAS STATE (21-6, 10-4)
WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Strahan Arena (7,200); San Marcos, Texas
RADIO: KHXT 107.9 FM with Jay Walker (play-by-play) and Ross Cook (color)
UL LEADERS: JaKeenan Gant, 20.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.9 bpg; Marcus Stroman, 11.8 ppg, 6.3 apg, 2.1 spg; Jerekius Davis, 10.0 ppg; Justin Miller, 9.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg