The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns return to the court this week,traveling north to Ruston to face Louisiana Tech on Wednesday, Dec. 4 beginning at 6:30 p.m. CST in the Thomas Assembly Center. The Cajuns (5-2) carry a three-game win streak into the contest after toppling 2013 NCAA Tournament participant Northwestern State, 105-74, on Nov. 27 in the Cajundome. The Cajuns bench came through against the Demons as Xavian Rimmer (20 points) and Kasey Shepherd (17) led a 54-point effort by the Louisiana reserves. Louisiana Tech is 5-1 on the year and carries a five-game win streak into Sunday's (Dec. 1) game at Jackson State. The Bulldogs were 21-7 last year, advancing to the second round of the NIT. This will be the 125th meeting between the two schools with Louisiana Tech owning a 68-56 lead.
PREVIEWING LOUISIANA: Louisiana is off to a 5-2 start in 2013-14, benefiting from the return of all five starters and a total of 10 lettermen from last year's squad that went 13-20, leading fourth-year head coach Bob Marlin to feel confident that the Cajuns are on a path to return to national prominence. The team is centered around the duo of point guard Elfrid Payton (20.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.9 spg) and forward Shawn Long (20.6 ppg, 11.6 rpg, 3.1 bpg), both of whom were named to the preseason All-Sun Belt first team this year. Long makes the move from center to power forward, his natural position, with newcomers J.J. Davenport (2.9, 3.4), a junior who played the last two seasons at New Mexico Junior College, and freshman Vieux Kande (0.4, 0.7), expected to see the majority of minutes at center. Elridge Moore (7.9, 5.3), who started as an undersized power forward last season, will move to small forward, with Steven Wronkoski (6.4, 3.1) starting on the wing. Bryant Mbamalu (13.8, 3.7 in 2012-13), who started 26 games as a wing guard last season, is out indefinitely with a foot injury in September. With Mbamalu out, junior Kevin Brown (6.3, 1.4), who is returning after missing most of last season with a broken foot, is expected to take over. Sophomore guard Kasey Shephard (4.7, 1.6) sees time off the bench this year with a trio of newcomers, junior Xavian Rimmer (7.7, 1.9 apg), and freshmen Hayward Register (3.5 ppg) and Luka Kamber (0.7 ppg) vying for time. Marlin is utilizing the depth and quickness by forcing an up-tempo game at both ends of the court by applying more defensive pressure. The Cajuns use their quickness and outside shooting ability to create a balanced offense, forcing opponents to cover the entire court.
LOUISIANA IN THE NCAA STATS: The Cajuns were featured prominetly when the first NCAA stats of the year were released on Monday (Nov. 25). Junior Elfrid Payton was 17th in steals (3.0), 24th in scoring (22.5) and 52nd in assists (5.5). Shawn Long is 14th in double-doubles (3) 23rd in rebounding (11.0), 28th in blocks (3.0) and 54th in scoring (20.3).
LONG STARTS YEAR ON A ROLL: Sophomore Shawn Long picked right up where he left off last spring, registering double-doubles in four of the first seven games to rank 14th nationally. He enters the Louisiana Tech game leading the Sun Belt in both rebounding (11.6) and offensive rebounding (7.1), ranked second in blocks (3.1) and offensive rebounds (4.4), third in scoring (20.3) and fifth in field goal percentage (.585).
LONG RECORDS QUICK DOUBLE-DOUBLES: After ranking sixth nationally last year with 18 double-doubles, sophomore Shawn Long has started the year with four double-doubles in the first seven games, achieving two before halftime. He scored 23 points with 14 rebounds in the season-opening win over Louisiana College. He needed just 18:07 to get his first double-double of the year, grabbing his 10th rebound of the night (to go with 14 points at the time) as part of an 18-point, 11-rebound effort in the first half.
Against Northwestern State on Nov. 26, Long had 16 points and 12 rebounds at halftime, accomplishing the double-double with 2:51 to play. He finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Long did not have a double-double by halftime during the 2012-13 season.
. . . AND PAYTON ADDS HIS FOURTH: Elfrid Payton also registered a double-double in the season opener, scoring 21 points with a career-high matching 10 assists for his fourth career double-double (and second point-assists double-double). Payton had them in back-to-back games at McNeese State (17 points, 10 rebounds) and Lamar (17/11) last year and came back to miss a triple-double by one rebound at FIU, scoring 13 points with nine rebounds and 10 assists.
LONG NAMED TOURNAMENT MVP: Sophomore forward Shawn Long was tabbed as the most valuable player of the EA Sports Maui on the Mainland after averaging 21.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks in the two games, shooting .667 from the field (14-for-21) and .600 from three-point (3-for-5). He scored 24 points with a career-high matching 17 rebounds and five blocks in the opening round comeback win over Oakland and came back to score all 18 of his points in the second half in the title game vs. Coastal Carolina.
. . . AND LONG EARNS SECOND SUN BELT HONOR: Three weeks into the 2013-14 season, Shawn Long has already garnered a pair of Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week awards. Long earned the honor on Nov. 12 after scoring 23 points with 14 rebounds and four blocks in the season opener against Louisiana College. He came back on Nov. 26 to pick up the award again after being named the MVP of the EA Sports Maui on the Mainland.
CAJUNS SNAP ROAD STREAK: The win at Coastal Carolina on Nov, 24 snapped a 19-game road losing streak against non-conference opponents that dated back to the end of the 2009-10 season. The win did not come easy as the basketball gods toyed with the Cajuns, nearly allowing Coastal Carolina to rally back from 15 points down with 5:13 left before Louisiana escaped with a 73-69 win.
RIMMER EXPLODES: Cajuns head coach Bob Marlin has often pointed out that in order to win tournaments, players who normally have smaller roles need to step up to offset playing games on back-to-back days. Xavian Rimmer did so vs. Coastal Carolina, scoring a career-high 21 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the title game victory in the EA Sports Maui on the Mainland. Rimmer, who had scored 15 points with five rebounds and was two-for-eight from three-point in the first five games, went six-for-nine from three-point in the win.
. . . AGAIN: The 105-74 win over Northwestern State featured a 20-point scoring performance by Xavian Rimmer, his second 20-point effort in three days. Rimmer went six-for-nine from the field (five-for-seven from three-point) in 25 minutes of action.
CAJUNS SIGN THREE: The Louisiana coaching staff was busy this week, signing three players to national letters of intent during the early signing period. Signing with the Cajuns were:
Scott Plaisance (6-9, 210, F, New Orleans, La./Country Day): Was named the Louisiana Class 1A Player of the Year after averaging 15.8 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game and leading Country Day to a 26-11 record and the state title. Plaisance is rated the No. 6 player in Louisiana on the latest Times-Picayune Super 16.
Bryce Washington (6-6, 230, F, New Orleans, La./St. Augustine): Earned first team all-district 10-4A honors last year after averaging 13.0 points, 11.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, helping lead his team to a 25-10 record. Ranked No. 13 on the Times-Picayune list of top players in Louisiana.
Johnathan Stove (6-4, 215, G-F, Baton Rouge, La./Christian Life Academy): First all-state choice after averaging 19.8 points as a junior. He was named to both the state Class A team and to the 11-man all-classes team by the Louisiana High School Basketball Coaches Association. A five-year regular, he played on state championship teams in both 8th & 10th grades and helped squad to a 27-6 record and the state semi-finals as a junior.
RAGIN' CAJUNS START THE NEXT 100 SEASONS: The Ragin' Cajuns have begun their 101st season of basketball. The first season was in 1911-12 when the Cajuns posted a 4-1 record. Louisiana has gone on to win 20 or more games 21 times since, entering the Northwestern State game with a 1,314-1,007 overall record. Louisiana did not have a team in either 1973-74 or 1974-75 because of NCAA sanctions. In the first 100 seasons, the Cajuns have advanced to postseason play 18 times, including 10 NCAA Tournament appearances, winning 16 conference titles. Eight Louisiana players have earned All-America honors with 96 being named all-conference.
PAYTON NAMED TO WOODEN AWARD PRESEASON TOP 50: Cajuns junior point guard Elfrid Payton earned a big preseason honor on Nov. 12 when he was named to the 2013-14 John R. Wooden Award preseason top 50 list by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. Named after the legendary UCLA head coach, the Wooden Award is the most prestigious individual honor in college basketball. It is bestowed upon the nation's best player at an institution of higher education who has proven to his or her university that he or she is making progress toward graduation.
. . . AND MORE HONORS FOR PAYTON: Being selected to the Wooden Award list is the latest in a long list of preseason awards for Elfrid Payton. Earlier in the fall, Payton was named to the preseason watch list for the Bob Cousy Award, which is presented to the nation's top point guard by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. In addition, Payton was named to the Mid-Major All-America first team by NBCSports.com and to the Lou Henson All-America team, which honors the nation's top mid-major players and is presented by CollegeInsider.com.
PAYTON NEARS 1,000 POINT MARK: Averaging 20.3 points through the first seven games, junior guard Elfrid Payton is quickly closing in on the 1,000 point mark for his career. Payton enters the week with 895 points, needing 105 more to become the 40th player in school history to reach that plateau.
. . . AND LONG & MBAMALU ARE WITHIN REACH AS WELL: Elfrid Payton isn't the only Cajun closing in on the 1,000 point mark as senior Bryant Mbamalu (794) and sophomore Shawn Long (655) could each surpass the total this year. Mbamalu's quest for 1,000 will have to wait until he returns from a foot injury, but when he does, he will have just 206 points to go. Long scored 511 points last year and will need to equal his 15.5 points per game from last year to accomplish the feat.
PAYTON OPENS SEASON WTTH HOT HAND: Elfrid Payton started his junior campaign off on the right foot, scoring 20 points or more in each of the first five games before tallying just 13 on Nov. 24 vs. Coastal Carolina. Payton had 21 points in the opener vs. Louisiana College, 22 vs. McNeese State, 27 at Arkansas, 20 at Baylor and a career-high 32 vs.Oakland. He leads the team and ranks second in the Sun Belt averaging 22.5 points a game. Payton is the first Cajuns player to score 20 points or more in five straight games since Michael Allen scored 20 points or more in 12 straight games early in the 1993-94 season.
MAKING THE GRADE: One thing that head coach Bob Marlin has emphasized in his three seasons at Louisiana is the necessity that his players give 100-percent both on and off the court. This demand has led to positive results in the classroom. During the spring 2013 semester, the Ragin' Cajuns set a program record with a 2.904 grade point average for the team. It was the fifth time in six semesters that the team had a GPA of better than 2.50, which had never been done before. The last five semesters account for four of the top seven terms for the basketball team during that time.
PAYTON IS BACK ON TOP: It only took Elfrid Payton four games to move back on top of the Sun Belt leader board in both assists (5.4) and steals (2.9), two categories that he led in 2012-13. In seven games, Payton has handed out 38 assists and made 20 steals (3.0).
. . . AND IS ON PACE FOR ANOTHER 15, 5, 5 & 2: Elfrid Payton was the only player in Division I last year to average 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals a game last year and he has done it again through six games this season. Payton enters the week averaging 20.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 2.9 steals a game. Last year, he averaged 15.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 steals.
SIX GAMES TO BE TELEVISED: The Ragin' Cajuns will garner a little more attention nationally this year as six games will be televised during the regular season. The Nov. 12 game McNeese State vs. was televised throughout Louisiana by the Ragin' Cajuns Network. The Sun Belt Network will pick up home games vs. Texas State (Jan. 13) and South Alabama (March 2) and the road meeting with Georgia State (Feb. 22). The Nov. 17 contest at Baylor was featured on Fox Sports Southwest while the Dec. 7 game at defending national champion Louisville will be shown on ESPN3. In addition, the home games vs. WKU (Jan. 25) and Arkansas State (Feb. 15) could both be picked up by one of the ESPN channels.
WELCOME BACK KEVIN: The Louisiana College game marked the return to the court for Kevin Brown, who missed most of last season after suffering a foot injury in the eighth game of the year. Brown averaged 4.8 points and shot .421 from three-point (8-21) last year, scoring a career-high 14 points at Michigan State. In seven games, Brown is averaging 6.3 points and 1.4 rebounds a game, scoring six or more points five times, including a season-high nine at Baylor.
MOORE LIKES OPENERS: Elridge Moore must love season openers. After all, the senior forward had scored in double figures just four times in his first season with the Cajuns. Last November, Moore went six-for-seven from the floor en route to setting career highs for points (15) and steals (5) in the season-opening win over Oakland. In the 2013-14 opener vs. Louisiana College, Moore scored seven of his 11 points in the second half, going four-for-five from the field and making all three free throws. Last year, Moore went on to average 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds a game, finishing second on the team with 33 steals and 51 assists and third with 17 blocks.
MOORE SETS CAREER HIGHS: Elridge Moore's confidence on the court was evident in the win over McNeese State on Nov. 13 when the senior set career highs for points (16) and rebounds (9), going 6-for-9 from the floor and making all four free throws. He added 10 points and eight rebounds at Arkansas, his third double-figure scoring effort of the year. In seven games, Moore is averaging 7.9 points and 5.3 rebounds a game, shooting .526 from the field (20-for-38) and .789 from the line (15-19).
HOW ELFRID SPENT HIS SUMMER: Elfrid Payton had quite a summer, traveling more than 40,000 miles to play 20 basketball games in three different countries as part of three different teams. The journey started with an eight-game, 18-day (May 11-28) tour of the Far East and China with Reach USA, during which he averaged 21.7 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 3.0 steals a game in helping Reach USA to a 4-2-1 record. After returning to the states, Payton headed to Colorado Springs, Colo. where he not only earned a spot on the USA Basketball U19 team for the FIBA World Championship (June 26-July 7) in Prague, Czech Republic, but a starting spot as well. Payton helped lead Team USA to a 9-0 record and the gold medal. One month later, Payton travelled with his Cajuns teammates to Spain, winning all four games during a goodwill tour.
. . . ALL BECAUSE OF A PASSPORT & CHRIS PAUL SAID NO: Elfrid Payton's emergence over the summer all happened because he was both denied admission to the Chris Paul Elite Gaurd Camp and went on a goodwill tour to China. With Payton playing in China and the Cajuns coaching staff trying in vane to get him an invite to the Paul camp, the coaches changed the focus to Team USA, which was interested in Louisiana's rising junior. When Bob Marlin spoke with Team USA head coach Billy Donovan, Donovan noted that the Payton could only attend the tryout if he already had a passport, which he had obtained in the weeks before leaving for China. Payton and his passport traveled to Colorado Springs for the tryout camp and the rest is history.
LOUISIANA TABBED FOR 4TH IN SBC POLL: With all five starters and a total of 10 lettermen back this season, the Ragin' Cajuns earned some respect from the Sun Belt Coaches when they were picked to finish in a fourth place tie with league newcomer Georgia State when the Sun Belt announced its annual preseason coaches poll on Oct. 30. Just 18 votes separated the top five teams with two-time tournament champion WKU getting the top nod with 91 points, including half of the 10 first place votes. South Alabama was second with 78 points, including two first place votes. Arkansas State was tabbed third with 74 points, one point ahead of both Louisiana (1 first place vote) and Georgia State (2), who each garnered 73 votes.
LONG & PAYTON NAMED TO ALL-SBC SQUAD: Junior guard Elfrid Payton and sophomore forward Shawn Long were rewarded for their hard work when the duo were two of five players named to the 2013-14 Preseason All-Sun Belt Conference first team in a balloting conducted of the league's head coaches. South Alabama's Augustin Rubit, the only senior on the first team, earned preseason player of the year honors, while Georgia State's R.J. Hunter and WKU's T.J. Price were the other first team honorees. Payton averaged 15.9 points and 5.6 rebounds last year, leading the league in both assists (181) and steals (80). Long, the reigning SBC Freshman of the Year, averaged 15.5 points and 10.2 rebounds, leading all freshman nationally in rebounding.
LONG LED FRESHMEN IN REBOUNDING: With 10 or more rebounds in 11 of his last 15 games last spring, Shawn Long finished the 2012-13 season as the top freshman rebounder in the country. Long grabbed 337 rebounds in 33 games (10.2 rpg) to rank ahead of Binghamton's Jordan Reed (9.6). Long was 12th in rebounding overall.
JERRY FLAKE TO BE HONORED: Another number will be raised to the Cajundome rafters during the season when Jerry Flake (1965-69) has his number honored prior to the Houston game on Dec. 14. Over four decades after completing his career, Flake still ranks fifth in school history with 2,058 career points, averaging 19.2 points a game over the course of his career. Flake's number 20 will become the fifth retired jersey, joining Dwight "Bo" Lamar's No. 10, the No. 14 worn by Marvin Winkler, Andrew Toney's No. 24 and the No. 12 worn by Dean Church, which was retired in February, 2012.
CAJUNS BENEFIT FROM LATE FREE THROW SHOOTING: The free throw shooting by the Cajuns was at its best late in the game last year as Louisiana went 142-for-196 (.724) from the line in the final 5:00 minutes and overtime. Alan-Michael Thompson (15-16, .938), Shawn Long (21-28, .750) and Steven Wronkoski (14-19, .737) led the team while Bryant Mbamalu, a career .776 shooter (45-58), was 24-for-29 last year (.828). That is a considerable improvement from the .617 (121-196) that the Cajuns shot during the 2011-12 season.
GRIDER ENTERS HALL OF FAME: Cajun basketball alumnus Sydney Grider (1988-90) was one of four Louisiana athletic alumni to be inducted into the Louisiana Athletic Hall of Fame. Grider was joined by baseball standout Gene Bacque (1956-57), softball star Lynn Britton (1993-96) and football star Andy Martin (1979-82), bringing the number of Ragin' Cajuns alumni to 142. Grider, the most effective three-point shooter in school history, earned back-to-back first-team All-American South Conference honors as a junior and senior, averaging 23.5 points as a junior and leading the American South as a senior with a 25.5 average. In that senior year he hit 131-of-321 three-point tries, setting Cajun school records in both categories.
NEXT UP: The Cajuns remain on the road, playing at defending national champion Louisville on Saturday (Dec. 7) at 12:00 noon. Louisiana then returns home to host Houston on Dec. 14 and Centenary on Dec. 17.