PREVIEWING THE LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE RAGIN' CAJUNS:
GREENVILLE, S.C.--For the second-straight game, Furman will host an opponent in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and one that hails from Sun Belt Conference, as well as from the Pelican State, when Louisiana-Lafayette makes the trek to Timmons Arena Saturday afternoon. Timmons Arena is a place that has become a special place for Furman, including two-buzzer beating wins and a now school-record 14 wins on the campain where the Paladins have now won a school record 14 games this season.
It will mark the third time this season the Paladins have faced a team from the Sun Belt Conference, having of course faced Louisiana-Monroe the last time out in that thrilling 58-57 win over the Warhawks on Daniel Fowler's buzzer-beater last time out. It marks the second-ever meeting with the Ragin' Cajuns, who are a traditional power in the Sun Belt Conference. The only other meeting between the two foes came some 56 years ago, with the Paladins claiming an 89-74 win over the Ragin' Cajuns in the Watauga Tournament played in Johnson City, Tenn.
The first-round buzzer-beating win over Louisiana's arch-rival, Louisiana-Monroe was the Paladins' second win in such fashion this season, as the Paladins posted a 63-62 win over Wofford on a Stephen Croone tip-in at the buzzer, which also came at Timmons Arena, back on Jan. 23.
The Ragin' Cajuns come in coached by one of the true mid-major household names, in Bob Marlin, who has spent 22 years as a head coach, including six at Lafayette.
Niko Medved, who is in third season as Furman's head coach, has compiled 39-58 record as the head Paladin, including leading the Paladins to a 23-16 record dating back to the final two regular-season games of last season, with Furman having won four of its last six games last season to reach the Southern Conference title game, and have followed that momentum this season by finishing third in the Southern Conference--the program's highest overall finish since the Butch Estes regular-season championship-winning team of 1990-91 season.
A win Saturday would mark just the third postseason win in school history, and would also mark just the second 20-win season since that same ‘90-91 club, and it would mark the tenth 20-win campaign, with eight of those coming in a 38-year span from 1953-91. Furman, which claimed its school-record 14th home win in the thrilling win over Monroe last Tuesday night, eclipsing the 1990-91 team, which went 13-0 on the home floor.
The 14 wins in Timmons Arena this season, including 11 in a row, bested the previous best home record in the facility, which opened in 1998, was a 12-2 mark back in the 2010-11 season. That also marked the Paladins' last 20-win season and only other CIT appearance, as the Paladins finished 22-11 record to close the season.
The Ragin' Cajuns claimed a 96-72 win over Texas A&M Corpus-Christi in their CIT opener. Furman lost to that same Texas A&M Corpus-Christi team early in the season in a Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament game in Elon, N.C., as the Paladins dropped a 73-69 contest at Alumni Gym.
The Ragin' Cajuns beat Appalachian State twice, posting an 87-76 win over the Mountaineers in Boone on Feb. 4, and won a 79-58 contest in Lafayette on Jan. 2. Against arch-rival Louisiana-Monroe this season, the Ragin' Cajuns split a pair of contests this season, with Lafayette winning a 72-65 overtime game in Lafayette, while the Warhawks captured an 81-70 win at Fant-Ewing Coliseum in the conference opener in early December.
The Ragin' Cajuns finished 12-8 in Sun Belt Conference play in 2015-16, which was good enough for a fourth-place finish in the Sun Belt Conference behind UT-Arlington, Monroe and league champion Arkansas-Little Rock. UT-Arlington was also a part of the CIT, as the Mavericks were beaten, 75-59, by MEAC member Savannah State in an opening round clash. The Ragin' Cajuns have finished fourth in the Sun Belt Conference standings each of the past two seasons, compiling an overall mark of 40-28 over the past two campaigns coming into Saturday afternoon's showdown at Timmons Arena. Louisiana is also 25-15 in Sun Belt play over the past two seasons.
The Paladins are 4-1 all-time against the state of Louisiana, having also defeated LSU (56-55/1960-61) Louisiana (89-74/1958) and Louisiana Tech (80-72), while having gone 1-1 all-time against Southwestern Louisiana . Tuesday night's win over Monroe made the Paladins improved to 4-1 against a state known for putting more of a percentage of its college football players in the NFL than any of the other 49 states. Furman dropped a 48-16 contest to the No. 13 LSU Tigers back in 2013. The Paladins also faced Nicholls State in a 2005 Division I-AA playoff game, with a 14-12 game win in a postseason
Louisiana is one of two teams remaining alive in the postseason for the Sun Belt Conference, with the other being No. 12 seed Little Rock in the West Region, who posted an 85-83 double-overtime win over No. 5-seed Purdue in a Thursday afternoon contest.
There is one connection on the Ragin' Cajuns' staff, as Lafayette assistant Gus Hauser was a walk-on for the Paladins during the Larry Davis era, as he served as a reserve point guard. He was also a place-kicker for the Paladin football team. Another Paladin place-kicker that spent time in the Pelican State is Andrew Burr, who remains the only Paladin player to have garnered All-SoCon honors in two sports, doing so in football in his fifth year, as well as being an All-SoCon selection three times in soccer. Burr spent time as an assistant soccer coach of the LSU women's program before taking the head job at Furman. Hauser graduated from Furman in 2000.
Including Furman's win over Monroe on Tuesday night, the SoCon is 5-2 against the Sun Belt Conference so far this season, and the along with East Tennessee State, which will begin play in the Vegas 16 Tournament on March 28, and UNC Greensboro, which will travel to Ohio for a second round of the College Basketball Invitational on Monday night, remain the only teams still alive in the college basketball postseason out of the Southern Conference.
The Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns enter Saturday night's contest with a team that will present a different challenge than the one that the Paladins were faced with when squaring off against Monroe earlier this week. The Ragin' Cajuns are a tradition-rich program, having won six Sun Belt titles (1982, ‘83, ‘92, ‘93, 2000 and ‘14 however). The Ragin' Cajuns have won a total of 10 Sun Belt crowns, however, have had to vacate four titles in 1972 ‘73, 2004 and ‘05. The Ragin' Cajuns were Sun Belt Conference champions just two years ago, and are 3-5 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
The Ragin' Cajuns were winners of 22 games last season, finishing the campaign 22-14 and participated in their first ever CollegeInsider.com Tournament, making it to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament quarterfinals before dropping an 89-82 contest to the Evansville Aces.
In CIT play all-time, the Ragin' Cajuns, which will be making their third appearance in the CIT Tournament, holding a 3-2 overall record.
The Ragin' Cajuns have had an incredible run of success against the Southern Conference foes in their tradition-rich basketball history, having won 16 of 18 games all-time against the SoCon. Nine of the 16 wins have come against Samford, while also having posted wins over East Tennessee State (2-0), Western Carolina (1-0), UNC Greensboro (1-0), VMI (1-0), Merer (1-0), Chattanooga (1-1) and Furman (0-1). In fact, Furman remains the only foe which the Ragin' Cajuns have played that they have not posted a win over.
The Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns have all five starters back from last season's club that also finished fourth in the league and posted 22 wins. The Ragin' Cajuns are a stark contrast from the Monroe club the Paladins faced in their last outing, as the Ragin' Cajuns are a little more of a high-octane offense, and enter the matchup with the Paladins averaging 80 PPG, which leads the Sun Belt this season. Louisiana sports an impressive 8.6 rebound margin this season, which leads the Sun Belt, and also ranks as one of the top rebound margins in the nation.
The Ragin Cajuns are led by Sun Belt Player of the Year Shawn Long (19.4 PPG, 12.4 RPG). Long needs only four boards against the Paladins to become just the third player in Louisiana Lafayette history to register 400 rebounds in a season. This season saw Long finish as the league's scoring and rebounding champion, respe
"Shawn Long might be the best big man we've had in this gym at Furman in my three years here, and he might be the second-best big man we have played against behind Jahleel Okafor last year, said Medved. Talent-wise, I would put Lafayette up against anyone in the Sun Belt."
"This team is a little different than Monroe in that they want to get out and run and they also are going to challenge on the boards. Monroe favored a more halfcourt pace and liked to let their defense creat offense. Louisiana Lafayette is the best rebounding team we have played this season, and they are going to be one of the most individually talented and athletic teams that has played here this season," Medved said.
Long, a 6-11, 250-lb transferred into Lafayette from Mississippi State, with 74 double-doubles in his career., which is tied for 12th place on the NCAA's all-time list for double-doubles, along with David Robinson of Navy and Keith Lee of Memphis. The closest player that the Paladins have faced in terms of skill-set in the Southern Conference this season is either Chattanooga's Justin Tuoyo.
Long was named to the Karl Malone Watch List, which is given to the nation's top power forward. He is one of five players remaining in contention for the award, which will be given out on April 8. His 74 double-doubles, 1,432 rebounds, and 864 field goals made rank as the top career-active marks in those respective categories heading into the second round clash. His 2,322 career points ranks him second in the NCAA career-active scoring, while ranking third in field goal attempts (1,715), and fifth in career rebouding average (10.8 RPG).
This season alone, Long ranks fourth in the nation in rebounds-per-game (12.4 RPG) and sixth this season overall in double-doubles among the NCAA leaders, with 22 on the campaign. Long enjoyed his best game of the season in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinal round clash with senior from Morgan City, La, poured in 34 points to go along with five boards.
The 34 points came on 13-of-20 shooting from the field, including a career-best five three-point field goals on a blistering 5-for-6 performance from long range. Long was going to be a part of the great Mississippi State big man legacy, which included the likes of Jarvis Varnardo and Eric Dampier from the past couple of decades, however, after his freshman season, Long fell right into a great situaiton with the Ragin' Cajuns, transferring to Lafayette and back closer to home.
Long might be the best big man in the state of Louisiana right now, and that includes LSU's Ben Simmons. In addition his 34-point outburst against South Alabama, Long also posted 29 points and 20 boards. Long has hit a total of 18 triples from beyond the arc this season. He has been held to less to double figures only twice in 32 games for the Cajuns this season. Long ranks as the Sun Belt's all-time leading rebounder. He joins a pretty stellar list of big men to come from the Pelican State, which includes the aforementioned Malone, Shaquille O'Neal and Stanley Roberts of Dale Brown's LSU Tigers of the early 1990s.
Joining Long in the paint for the Ragin' Cajuns on Saturday Devonta Walker (5.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG), who account for a very experienced duo underneath the basket.
Walker is one of the main role players for the Cajuns, and the 6-7, athletic forward from Salisbury, MD, has scored in double figures four times this season, including a season-high 17 points back in November and was a preseason all-conference selection. He is shooting an extremely efficient 55.0% from the field this season and is an excellent defender underneath. Walker was a preseason Third-Team All-Sun Belt pick.
Shepherd is a 6-3, 180-lb native of Houston, TX, and has been one of the versatile players in the lineup, and is coming off a career performance in the CIT opener for Louisiana, as he posted a career-high 28 points in Lafayette's first round win over Texas A&M CC.
His six triples in the opener against the Islanders were a career best. From three-point range this season, Shepherd leads the Ragin' Cajuns in three-pointers made (58) and three-point field percentage (35.2%). Shepherd needs just 17 points in Saturday's contest to become the 43rd player in the history of Louisiana basketball.
Joining Shepherd as starters in the backcourt will be, Jay Wright (8.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG) and Jonathan Stove (9.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 1.8 APG).
Wright and Stove have been reliable options in the backcourt for the Stove posted his best game of the season against against Arkansas State, posting 18 points in a Feb. 11, ten-point win over the Red Wolves. In the win over the Islanders last time out, Stove started his first game for the Ragin' Cajuns since early January, as head coach Bob Marlin has employed 13 different starting lineups this season.
Off the bench, the Ragin' Cajuns' will look to Bryce Washington (8.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG) and Steven Wronkoski (4.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG). Washington, a 6-8 forward, comes into the contest leading the Sun Belt in field goal percentage, while the 6-5 guard from Hammond, Louisian Wronkoski has started 19 of 32 games this season. However, off the bench for the first time in two months, he matched a season-high with 11 points in the opening round win over Texas A&M CC.
FIVE QUICK FURMAN FACTS:
--Furman recorded its second buzzer-beating win of the season and first non-conference postseason win since 1974 with the Paladins' 58-57 win over Lousiana Monroe.
--Did you know that Saturday's game between Furman and Louisiana Lafayette marks the first since 1978-79 that the Paladins have played Divinsion I non-conference foes from the same league and same state since doing the Tar Heel State Tango in 1979, facing both North Carolina (W, 83-70) and North Carolina State (L, 75-63) in the North-South Doubleheader.
--Furman guard and the school's fifth all-time leading scorer Stephen Croone went over 1,900 points for his career the last time out, however, has been held to less than double figures each of the past two games. Prior to the SoCon semifinal loss to East Tennessee State, the senior from Covington, GA had scored in double digits in 86 of 90 games.
--After having missed Toledo, OH native and leading three-point shooter Geoff Beans in the last time out against Monroe to a groin strain, the Paladins' leading perimeter shooter returns to the lineup on Saturday and needs just three triples to eclipse his 46 triples last season and has exactly 90 for his career. His 44 triples leads the Paladins this season, and his 37.3% FG percentage is second on the team.
--Furman sophomore guard Devin Sibley has led the Paladins has led the Paladins in scoring each of the past four games in a string of seven-consecutive double-figure scoring contests for the Knoxville, TN native. His 29 points in the SoCon semifinal loss to ETSU matched a career-high of 29, which he also established in a loss to ETSU last season.