Louisiana 79, #12 Mississippi State 76

November 23, 2002

Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, MS

This was the Cajuns' season opener, bringing back memories of when basketball started as football was ending.  The game was played on the same day as the Cajuns' season finale at Louisiana-Monroe, bringing to an end Rickey Bustle's first season as UL football coach.

Jessie Evans' squad was coming off a 20-11 season which saw them win the Sun Belt West and make it to the finals of the Sun Belt Tournament in New Orleans, where they fell to Western Kentucky.  Louisiana earned an NIT bid at the end of the season.  The Cajuns were 12-1 at home, with their only loss to Mississippi State at the Cajundome 79-71,

Hopes were high entering the season, as the Cajuns returned four of their top five scorers:   senior Anthony Johnson, sophomore Michael Southall, and juniors Brad Boyd and Laurie Bridges.

Boyd had averaged 7.5 points per game as a sophomore, but shot only 31% beyond the arc after being a prolific shooter and scorer for St. Thomas More High School.  He had made just 72 trifectas in his first two seasons.  During the off-season between his sophomore and junior seasons, however, his mother Beth was looking at old footage and noticed Boyd had adjusted his shot since becoming a collegian, specifically, bringing his hands much higher over his head when shooting.  Boyd worked on the adjustment in the off season.

Neither the Cajuns nor the Bulldogs would be at full strength, however.  The Bulldogs star forward Mario Austin was held out of the game while his eligibility questions were addressed.  But the Cajuns had plenty of missing players as well.  Bridges, Southall and Cedric Williams were all academically ineligible until mid-term.  Antoine Landry had an ankle sprain and Robert Jupiter missed the game as well.  The Cajuns only dressed ten players for the game.

For me, this came B. T. (Before Twins) and my wife and I decided to make a weekend of it.  We headed up to Mississippi and spent the weekend with her dad and his wife on their farm in Sturgis.  My late father-in-law got his PhD from MSU and was retired from the University, where he headed the continuing education department.  There was a lot of maroon at their house.

Saturday afternoon I make the fifteen mile drive to Starkville.  Mississippi State had a football game that day and there was a lot of traffic around the stadium.  I made it to Humphrey Coliseum in plenty of time, though.  The basketball game would draw 6,857, which would be the largest season-opening crowd in five years.

With Southall, Bridges and the others unavailable, the Cajuns started Immanuel Washington, Kenneth (KJ) Lawrence and Boyd at the guards.  Johnson manned one forward spot and, in the middle, a freshman from Australia named Chris Cameron was making his first career appearance.

Boyd and the Cajuns came out on fire, taking an 8-0 lead on a Boyd three pointer, a Boyd putback and another Boyd triple.  But Lawrence went down with a neck injury eight minutes into the game, which necessitated Boyd's move to the point.  The game was delayed for several minutes while Lawrence was taken to a hospital, where X-Rays proved negative.  The Cajuns stretched the first half lead to as many as 12, 23-11, before Mississippi State went on a 12-1 to take their first lead  at the five minute mark of the first half.  The Bulldogs and Cajuns traded baskets the rest of the way, with MSU taking a one point lead, 34-33 at the break.  At the half, Boyd had hit four three-point baskets.

Although they only trailed by one at the half, the Cajuns had some issues.  They had only dressed ten players and had lost one to injury.  Their only remaining guard was walk-on Scooter Owens.  The only players who had played besides the starting five were center Khadim Kandji, and two forwards who weren't expected to play much, Chris Williams and former football player Robert Davis.

Mississippi State led for much of the second half, but never led by more than five, as Boyd continued to hit shots and Johnson seemed to score at will.  The two would combine for 59 points.  The Bulldogs got their biggest lead with 6:29 left, on a Derek Zimmerman dunk, but a Johnson triple, his fourth of the game, got the lead down to two a minute later.  After a Zimmerman bucket, Boyd hit his seventh three pointer to bring the Cajuns within one.  Another Boyd triple, this time with 3:25 to go, gave the Cajuns a 71-69 lead and the Cajuns would never trail again.  Mississippi State tied the game on two Zimmerman free throws, but Boyd's final trifecta of the night, this one from the deep left corner with 1:14 to go turned out to be the dagger.  Johnson hit four free throws in the final minute to seal the upset victory.

Boyd wound up with 33 points on 12-14 shooting.  He was 9-18 from three point range.  Johnson added 26 points including 10-12 from the charity stripe.  And, Cameron, in his first game, was superb.  The Aussie played 34 minutes and had a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.  Boyd played all 40 minutes, Johnson played 39, Washington 35 and Cameron 34.

It was a pretty quick drive back to Sturgis after the game and I tried, very unsuccessfully, to stifle the big grin on my face that I had since the final buzzer had sounded.  My father in law asked if "that kid" had ever shot the ball like that in a game.  "No," I said, "but we've been waiting for it."

Boyd's nine three pointers set a Humphrey Coliseum record and the most triples ever recorded against a Mississippi State team.  It was the first time the Cajuns opened with a road win since 1989.  Both teams would wind up winning 20 games, with Mississippi State earning an NCAA bid and the Cajuns, their second straight trip to the NIT.

Boyd wound up with a breakout season, hitting over 100 three point shots, while shooting 37% beyond the arc.  He led the Cajuns in scoring, averaging over sixteen points per game.  He ended his career in 2003-04, finishing in the top five in Sun Belt History in career three pointers.

One more reason for Brad Boyd to thank his mom.

(NCAA Box Score and UL game story contributed to this story.)