UL's Jalen Johnson must know opponents have him pegged
Heading into the Ragin’ Cajuns recent three-game road trip to Wyoming and Las Vegas, Jalen Johnson was averaging 20.0 points per game.
He had scored 16 or more in each of UL’s first four games of the season, including 21-plus in each of the first three.
But in a Nov. 21 loss at Wyoming, he had no points and no rebounds at halftime.
Johnson — a transfer from St. Louis University who averaged 8.3 points in his two seasons with the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Billikens — finished with just eight points and four boards in Laramie.
He went on to score 18 in a win over Detroit Mercy last week in Vegas, but just 10 the next day there in a blowout loss to UC Irvine.
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For the trip, Johnson finished an uncharacteristic 1-for-12 from 3-point range — after opening the season 8-for-16 in UL’s first three games.
So early in the week, UL coach Bob Marlin — whose 5-3 Cajuns visit Arizona State on Saturday night in their second-to-last non-conference road game of the season — challenged Johnson.
“You’re the focal point of the other team’s scouting report every night,” Marlin said Johnson must realize, “and you’ve got to learn how to handle that.”
Johnson heeded the call right away.
The junior forward from University Lab High in Baton Rouge scored a game-high and career-high 26 points in UL’s 98-81 win over Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday night at the Cajundome, shooting 10-for-14 from the field including 3-of-4 from behind the long-distance line.
Related:Jalen Johnson rebounds from road struggles to lead Cajuns past Southeastern Louisiana
More:Ragin' Cajuns blow by Detroit Mercy behind Johnson's 18
He also pulled down 10 rebounds for his second double-double as a Cajun, along with one in a home win over Youngstown State a few nights before the trip.
Johnson said he refocused after the trip and concentrated more on rebounding than scoring against the Southland Conference’s Lions.
But the points came naturally, perhaps because Johnson — who had to sit out all last season at UL in accord with NCAA transfer rules — remembered something he discussed several weeks ago.
“He believes in me, trusts me,” Johnson said of Marlin.
Now Marlin must trust Johnson — one of three double-digit scorers for UL, along with junior Cedric Russell (13.8 points per game) and redshirt freshman Kobe Julien (12.8) — will continue to recall the advice offered earlier this week.
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After visiting Arizona State, UL plays its final non-conference road game Dec. 14 at Louisiana Tech.
The start of Sun Belt Conference play is right around the corner from that, with Arkansas State on tap in Jonesboro on Dec. 18 followed by Little Rock on Dec. 21 at the Cajundome in the Cajuns’ final game before Christmas.
UL returns from a short Christmas break to face UC Santa Barbara on Dec. 29 at home in its final non-conference game of the season, then returns to its Sun Belt slate with South Alabama in town on Jan. 2 to open the new year.
It will be a stretch in which Marlin hopes Johnson, who is now averaging 17.8 points per game, plays much more like he did early in the season than he did during UL’s recent week away.
The reason: Opponents know he can score and will plan accordingly.
“He’s gonna have to prepare and step up his game,” Marlin said, “because in conference that’s what we’ll see.”
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RAGIN’ CAJUNS BASKETBALL
UL (5-3) at Arizona State (5-2)
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. (central) Saturday
WHERE: Desert Financial Arena; Tempe, Arizona
TV: Pac-12 Networks
RADIO: KPEL 1420 AM and KHZT 107.9 FM with Ian Auzenne
UL LEADERS: Jalen Johnson (17.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Cedric Russell (13.8 ppg), Kobe Julien (12.8 ppg), Dou Gueye (6.3 rpg), Mylik Wilson (2.3 apg)