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Jay’s Memorable Moment #16 – The Heart of a Lion

ragincajuns.com

Louisiana 72, Florida Atlantic 64

FAU Arena, Boca Raton, FL

February 12, 2011

Bob Marlin’s first season as coach of Louisiana’s Ragin’ Cajuns didn’t begin quite as planned.

The Cajuns stumbled to a 3-14 record, 1-5 in the Sun Belt Conference, but experienced an amazing turnaround in the second half of the season.

It started with a win over an out-manned Centenary squad and then, on a weekend when legendary coach Beryl Shipley was honored, the Cajuns drew over 5.600 fans and beat Louisiana-Monroe, 84-75.

Next, it was a home win over North Texas for the Cajuns’ third straight win and that was followed by the Cajuns’ first road win in a calendar year as they defeated South Alabama in overtime.

In all of those games, La’Ryan Gary scored in double figures.

Gary was a question mark to even play after missing the season before with a devastating knee injury that most felt would end his career.  But those underestimated the Carencro senior’s resolve.

That might have included the Cajuns’ coaching staff, who were hoping Gary might be able to give them ten minutes per game.

But as the season progressed, Gary played more and more and his play on the floor was only surpassed by his leadership both on and off the court.  During the game against South Alabama, it was Gary who continuously was the vocal leader in team huddles.  He played a season high 36 minutes in that game as the Cajuns won their fourth straight.

Next up was a Saturday night win over Arkansas-Little Rock as Travis Bureau hit two free throws with less than one second remaining.

From there it was on to Miami, Florida for a game at FIU.  Gary had twelve points in more than 30 minutes of action, including two free throws in the final second as the Cajuns got their sixth straight win, 72-68.

One thing that had become a pattern throughout the season, however, was Gary’s ability to play a lot of minutes twice in one week.  And the Cajuns were putting their six game streak on the line just two days after the FIU win, with a trip to league-leading Florida Atlantic.

FAU came into the game 18-8 and 10-2 in Sun Belt play.  The Cajuns had never won in Boca Raton.

What I saw that night was perhaps the most courageous performance I’ve ever seen from someone wearing a Ragin’ Cajuns uniform.

Gary had a quiet first half, scoring three points as the Cajuns built a four point lead at the half.  The lead was still at four five minutes later when the forward hit two free throws to give the Cajuns a six point lead, 39-33.

But Gary wasn’t moving very well.  He looked okay during action, but was limping some getting back on defense.  And, when the whistle blew and play stopped, the limp was even more noticeable.

Gary left the game briefly, but returned a couple of minutes later.  FAU had taken the league, but Gary assisted a Josh Brown field goal that put the Cajuns up by one  buried a three pointer with just under twelve minutes to go to put the Cajuns up by four.  Fifteen seconds later the under twelve media timeout came and Gary struggled to get back to the huddle.  Athletic Trainer B. J. Duplantis had been watching and suggested to Gary it might be time to take a seat.

Gary glared at him.

“I’m not coming out,” he told Duplantis.

FAU got five quick points from Shavar Richardson to regain the lead for the Owls, but that lead lasted just 30 seconds as Gary got a put-back of a J. J. Thomas miss to put the Cajuns back up 51-50.  The teams each traded four free throws and Gary hit another huge three pointer at the nine minute mark to put the Cajuns back up by four.  Gary then answered two Richardson free throws with two freebies of his own and it was a four point game with 8:19 left.  Those freebies started an 8-1 Cajuns run that stretched the lead to 68-57 with four and a half minutes to go.

By this time, Gary was pretty much dragging his leg behind him as he went down court on each possession, yet he played on.  His mere presence was a motivation for his teammates as FAU got no closer than five points the rest of the way in a 72-64 win, the Cajuns’ seventh in a row.  Gary’s fifteen points tied teammate Randell Daigle for team honors.

After the teams shook hands, Gary struggled to the locker room and when he got there, lay down on the floor, tears streaming down his face from the pain.  Duplantis gave Gary an anti-inflammatory as Coach Marlin came out to do the post-game show.

Duplantis made arrangements for Gary to be assisted to the team bus, but he would have none of it.

“Just help me up.  I’m walking out of here.”

And he did.

The streak would last the remainder of the season.  Gary would score in double figures in three of the final four games, including a career-high 22 points on senior night against Denver in front of more than 8.000 fans.

Gary’s inspirational leadership during that eleven game winning streak left Cajuns fans with a memory.

And, if they should forget, they only need look at the rafters of the Cajundome to see the Western Division banner he left as a going away gift.

 

(NCAA box score and UL sports information contributed to this story.)

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