Cajuns Drop Heartbreaker to UC Irvine 67-66
The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns came out ice cold in their quarterfinal game of the CollegeInsider Tournament Wednesday night at the Cajundome. But despite falling behind by as many as 16 points in the first half and 15 points in the second, it took a fortuitous bounce on a jumper by Mike Best with 3.4 seconds left to end the Cajuns season.
Best's fadeaway bounced on the rim twice and went through the nets, and the Cajuns' last second shot was off the mark as UC Irvine defeated the Cajuns 67-66 before 1,901 fans at the Cajundome.
The Cajuns (19-15) trailed by five points, 65-60 with 2:24 remaining after a Luke Nelson layup. But Kasey Shepherd hit a layup of his own with 1:29 to play to cut the lead to three. Following a Nelson turnover, Shawn Long got a putback to cut the lead to one, 65-64 with 1:08 to play. The Cajuns got a defensive stop as Long got a blocked shot and snared a rebound leading to a Jay Wright jumper with :22.4 remaining to give the Cajuns the lead.
The Cajuns committed a foul with 15 seconds remaining and the Anteaters got the ball in to Best, who hit the game winning shot. It was his first field goal since the 17:50 mark of the first half.
The Cajuns got the ball to midcourt and called timeout with 2.3 seconds left. But Long's 13 footer in the lane hit the backboard as time expired.
"I thought Shawn got fouled on that last shot and so did he," Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin said. "Kasey (Shepherd) was our first option, but he went a little early and we got the ball in to Shawn."
The Cajuns' comeback overcame a miserable first half where the Cajuns made just two of their first 16 shots to open the game and UCI opened up a 21-5 lead with 11:29 to play in the first half. Alex Young scored eleven of his game high 21 points during a two and a half minute spurt during that run.
The Cajuns began whittling away at the lead, but a Jaron Martin triple increased the UCI lead to 13 points, 29-16 at the 6:24 mark before the Cajuns mounted a comeback. Kasey Shepherd started the run with the Cajuns' only three point basket of the first half. Long hit a shot inside, Johnathan Stove hit a jumper and Shepherd hit two free throws to get the Cajuns within four points with 3:57 left. The lead fluctuated between four and six points before Young's jumper with :08 left gave the Anteaters a 40-33 lead at halftime.
The Anteaters (27-9) made 17-37 shots in the first half and 6-13 from three point range with Young scoring 16 first half points on 6-8 shooting, including four triples. The Cajuns meanwhile, shot just 28.6% (10-35) and were just 1-11 beyond the arc in the first half.
UC Irvine scored on a layup and three point basket by Ioannis Dimakopoulos sandwiched around a Young triple to increase the lead to 48-33 before the Cajuns made another comeback. Two baskets by Devonta Walker, jumpers by Stove and Bryce Washington and a pair of Shepherd free throws were part of a 10-0 run that cut the lead to 48-43 with 14:46 to play.
Following two Jaron Martin free throws, Stove and Hayward Regiister hit back to back treys to cut the lead to 50-49 with 10:38 to play. UCI extended the lead back to six points, 57-51 before Long hit a layup, Wright drilled a three from the wing and Shepherd hit another triple to give the Cajuns their first lead of the game, 59-57 with 6:13 left.
UCI came right back as Jonathan Galloway hit a layup to tie the game and Martin hit a jumper to put the Anteaters back on top, 61-59 with 5:15 to go and UCI got the lead back up to five points before the final Cajuns' comeback.
Young led UCI with 21 points. Martin added twelve and the 7-1 Dimakopoulos, playing in place of the injured 7-6 center Mamadou Ndiaye, scored eleven. The Cajuns held Luke Nelson, the Anteaters' leading scorer to 3-14 shooting and seven points. Young and Nelson, who had nearly a 3:1 assist/turnover ratio entering the game, combined for three assists and seven turnovers.
The Cajuns had a balanced scoring effort with Stove and Walker leading the way with 13 points each. Shepherd added 12, while Washington and Long had ten apiece. Long finished with his 75th double double of his career (12th all time in NCAA history) as he hauled in eleven rebounds as part of the Cajuns' 44-41 advantage on the boards. Galloway, a 6-10 freshman, led UCI in rebounds with 13.
For the contest, UCI shot 41.2% (28-68) and 39.1% (9-23) from three point range. The Cajuns, meanwhile, hit 32.9% (23-70) and were 5-24 from three point range. Louisiana, which shot 12-16 free throws in the first half, got to the line only five times in the second half as the game became more physical.
"I'm proud of the way our guys battled tonight," Marlin said. "They gave us everything they had. We just didn't make enough shots in the first half. But I love this team, I love this game and I love this University."
Long finished his Cajun career as the teams 3rd all time leading scorer (2,342 points), leading rebounder (1,443), shot blocker (273) and first all time in games started (131). He also finished second in Sun Belt history in scoring and blocked shots and first in rebounding.
Shepherd ended his career with 1,013 points and is sixth all time in three point baskets made (162) and tied for seventh in steals (148). He also is third in games played (123). Steven Wronkoski ended his career having played in more games than anyone in Cajuns' history (136).