What to know about Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns basketball after lineup shakeup

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

The UL basketball team has split its first three Sun Belt Conference weekend sets.

The Ragin’ Cajuns (9-4, 3-3 Sun Belt) return to the Cajundome for two games against Arkansas State (5-6, 2-2), which is coming off a two-game sweep at UL Monroe.

Games are scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 4 p.m (ESPN+, KPEL 96.5 FM). 

The Red Wolves return senior guard Marquis Eaton (10.8 points per game), have the league’s leading rebounder in freshman forward Norchad Omier (11.9 per game) and have a new leading scorer in sophomore guard Caleb Fields (13.4 ppg).

Here’s what to know about the Cajuns heading into their back-to-back games against Arkansas State:

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Cedric Wilson, Dou Gueye respond to benching

Coach Bob Marlin benched both guard Cedric Russell and big man Dou Gueye for the start of Friday’s 91-86 loss at Texas-Arlington, opening with Mississippi State transfer Devin Butts and Cal transfer Jacobi Gordon instead. Marlin said Monday he did it because “I wanted make them uncomfortable and shake up the lineup a little bit.”

Russell (16.9 ppg) is the Sun Belt’s No. 3 scorer this season, trailing only South Alabama’s Michael Flowers (22.3) and Coastal Carolina’s DeVante Jones (22.2).

“I didn’t like the way those two guys had practiced,” Marlin said, “and wanted to mix it up a little bit and challenge them.”

But both started the second half Friday and were back in the opening lineup for a 68-51 win Saturday.

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Cedric Russell makes his was down the court as the Ragin Cajuns  takes on Lousiana Tech in the Cajundome Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.

Gueye had 13 points and six rebounds Friday, and another 10 boards Saturday. Russell finished with a team-high 17 points Friday, shooting 5-for-12 from the field but 3-for-5 from 3-point range, and had another 16 points Saturday.

“It’s his team,” Marlin said of Russell, “and we’ve talked about that, as a senior leader.

“Cedric got us started (Saturday) hitting (a) big 3-point shot early, and then it bled over to Mylik (Wilson) and Jacobi Gordon.”

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Mylik Wilson coming off ‘fantastic’ game

Wilson had a 25-point, 16-rebound double-double Saturday, which Marlin said was UL’s best defensive game of the season.

The boards were a career-high for the sophomore guard who hit 5 of 5 from 3-point range and also had four steals.

“He had a complete game,” Marlin said of Wilson, last season’s SBC Freshman of the Year.

“He had a fantastic game, and I’m really excited about him and anxious to see how he’s going to play this weekend.”

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Brayan Au sat for precautionary reasons

Starting point guard Brayan Au did not start Saturday’s second half and was replaced by freshman guard Ty Harper, who joined the team between semesters.

Marlin said Au “had fallen on his knee that he had surgery on in October,” prompting the Cajuns to hold him out “as a precaution.”

Harper, Marlin said, “is learning more day by day and making good plays.”

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Marlin growing tired of SBC splits

Marlin has found the Sun Belt’s new setup of weekend games can be a challenge.

“It’s very difficult to play the same team twice back-to-back,” he said.

“But I’m encouraged that we can hopefully strong together a couple, because whoever does that is gonna wind up winning the league.”

Texas State (9-4, 3-1), which split with UL earlier this month at the Cajundome, leads the West Division and Georgia State (8-2, 2-1) is tied with Appalachian State (10-5, 4-2) atop the East.

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Cajuns coach moving up

Marlin now has 112 Sun Belt wins, leaving him one away from breaking out of a tie with ex-South Alabama coach Ronnie Arrow for second-most wins in conference history.

Former Middle Tennessee coach Kermit Davis Jr., now Ole Miss’ coach, leads with 117.

Marlin also passed ex-UAB coach Gene Bartow (111) earlier this year.  

Home has been sweet for UL, but road not bad

Friday’s and Saturday’s game are the final two amid a stretch with 11 of 13 for the Cajuns at home, where they’re 7-2 this season.

After this weekend UL plays four straight and five of six on the road, starting Jan. 29-30 at Texas State.

As well as the Cajuns have done at home, though, Marlin suggested playing road games isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the Sun Belt’s 2020-21 scheduling structure. UL is 2-2 away from the Cajundome this season, including a season-opening loss to preseason No. 1 Baylor in Las Vegas.

“I think there (are) some issues that deal with the quick turnaround that help the team that’s on the road,” Marlin said. “Because we were right there in the hotel (last weekend). We never lost focus. We didn’t go back to the dorms. We didn’t go back to our apartments, our homes.

“We stayed, we slept, we ate, we game-planned and then we checked out of the hotel and got off to a great start.”

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