Tonight's game between the Ragin' Cajuns of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the Kent State University Golden Flashes is a special opportunity for me. A few years ago, I began to piece together a book on the chasm between the "haves and have nots" in college basketball, and I was afforded distinguished opportunities to speak with over 70 college coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners. Among those was UL Lafayette Head Coach Bobby Marlin, who was then the lead man at Sam Houston State University. I know that Kyle has spoken with Coach Marlin on several occasions and will concur when I say he is one of the most amiable, respectful, and under-rated coaches in all of Division I basketball! His accomplishments are many and all too few ever referenced, which is truly unfortunate! Having the opportunity to see him was one of the reasons that I chose to cover this particular game. (Special thanks to one Kyle Whelliston, for implementing the 800 Games Project and making that possible.)
Bobby Marlin's squad wraps up a two game road trip that began with a 19 point loss (84-65) at the hands of Duquense this past Saturday, and heads home after tonight's game with Kent State Head Coach Rob Senderoff's Golden Flashes (2-1), whose only blemish on this early season came last Tuesday night in a 57-53 home loss to Cleveland State.
Louisiana (3-4) took the floor first for warm-ups, and I was amazed to see J.J. Thomas who is the Ragin' Cajuns second leading scorer, and was the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year last season, in street clothes. I soon found out that he is nursing a knee injury and Coach Marlin understands that the only way you have an opportunity to dance in March, is by winning your conference tournament. Having a player of Thomas' caliber around for the most meaningful games to achieve that goal is worth sitting him out for a non-conference game. Having said that, I was somewhat disappointed in not having the opportunity to watch him play.
The opening tip went to Kent State, and after a missed jump shot by Justin Greene, Louisiana opened the scoring on a Kadeem Coleby (6-9 Jr.) jump hook off an Elfrid Payton (6-3 Fr.) miss. Coleby finished with 19 pts. (which led all scorers), 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. Without him on this night due to the absence of Thomas, Louisiana would have been severely handicapped on both ends of the court. On the subsequent possession for Kent State, Michael Porrini (6-2 Sr.) put the Golden Flashes on the board with a lay-up on an assist from Justin Greene (6-8 Sr.).
Both teams traded baskets up until the first media timeout which came at the 15:55 mark and found the score knotted at nine. What followed was a scoring drought for both teams for over three minutes until a Raymone Andrews (6-2 Jr.) foul sent Porrini to the line for a pair of free throws with 12:43 left to play in the first half. A pair of lay-ups by Josh Brown (6-4 Sr.) and Andrews gave UL Lafayette a 13-11 lead, which would be their last until the 12:41 mark of the second half. Over the next six plus minutes, Kent State embarked upon a 14-2 run which led me to believe that the shooting woes for Louisiana which have plagued them during this early portion of the season, would put them in a hole that would be extremely difficult to overcome against an experienced Golden Flashes team that takes full advantage of the friendly confines of the M.A.C. Center (Memorial Athletic and Convocation), where they have compiled a 160-26 record over the past 13 seasons!
To the Ragin' Cajuns credit (and a Bobby Marlin coaching trademark), they played with resolve on the defensive end, to fight back and head to the locker room at halftime only down six (36-30) on a Josh Brown lay-up off of a David Perez (6-3 Sr.) assist with :04 seconds left.
The second half opened with a Justin Greene lay-up to push Kent's lead to eight . Louisiana went on a 20-7 run which spanned 7:48 and landed the Ragin' Cajuns with a five point lead (50-45) with 12;02 to play in the game. Kent State's Patrick Jackson's (6-6 Jr.) lay-up prior to the second media timeout of the second half and Carlton Guyton's 3 pointer just after it, tied the game at fifty. From that point there were five lead changes over the next 7:23, that saw Louisiana lead by as many as four on three occasions, but left Kent State with a 67-66 advantage with 4:26 left in the second half, and Kent would not relinquish the lead for the remainder of the game. As a matter of fact, Kent State's defensive pressure would allow them to embark upon a 7-0 run that would seal the Ragin' Cajuns' fate with a 74-67 lead showing only :28 seconds to play. Two Justin Greene free throws with :14 seconds left would close out the scoring and allow Kent State to send the 2,638 patrons who witnessed a game that was much more competitive than the final score would indicate, into the chilly and damp northeast Ohio night very content.
I can not help but think that had J.J. Thomas not been sidelined with a knee injury, this game may have turned out differently, but this game is not played out upon hypotheticals. Coach Marlin's team will have their day, as all his teams eventually do. The Ragin' Cajuns fall to 3-5 overall as they travel back home to Lafayette and try to get healthy against a McNeese State team from the Southland Conference that Coach Marlin is all to familiar with, from his days as the head coach at Sam Houston State University which are a scant two years removed.
Rob Senderoff's Golden Flashes who now stand at 3-1 on the young season and welcome Donnie Tyndall's Eagles of Morehead State this Thursday evening, won this game behind a solid night behind the arc in shooting 62.5% and limiting the Ragin' Cajuns to a paltry 31.3% from the same distance, which can be attributed to the ever present consistent perimeter defense which has become a program trademark. Kent State ended up with four players in double figures led by Michael Porrini and Randal Holt with 15 apiece and Justin Greene's 14 point, 8 rebound performance. They wind up a five game homestand against Conference USA's UAB Blazers this coming Saturday afternoon and will not play their next home game until after the New Year! Kent plays in the ultra-competitive East Division of the MAC which many pundits feel may ultimately be decided upon the first of two meetings with their arch-rival Akron, which is separated by fourteen miles of concrete and asphalt, and fifty-four days.
Kent State is as experienced as anyone in their conference, and will benefit from the continuity and history which has afforded this program to be the most consistent Mid American Conference team for over a decade. They will be playing in late March, and first year Head Coach Rob Senderoff has his sights set on hanging another NCAA Tournament banner in the rafters of the M.A.C.
It was fate that allowed me to see Bobby Marlin coach in person after five years, and Kent State's pride in defending its home court sealed the fate of his Ragin' Cajuns.
at KENT STATE 76, LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 67 11/28/2011
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 3-5 (0-0) -- K. Coleby 8-13 3-4 19; D. McClellan 5-7 4-6 17; R. Andrews 1-4 4-6 6; E. Payton 2-7 2-4 6; J. Brown 7-10 1-1 16; B. Mbamalu 0-2 0-0 0; D. Perez 1-4 0-0 3; D. Jackson 0-1 0-0 0; A. Thompson 0-4 0-0 0; S. Farrington 0-0 0-0 0; K. Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-52 14-21 67. KENT STATE 3-1 (0-0) -- M. Porrini 4-8 6-7 15; J. Greene 5-10 4-7 14; C. Guyton 3-8 4-5 12; R. Holt 4-8 4-4 15; E. Gaines 3-4 0-0 8; C. Evans 1-2 0-0 3; P. Jackson 1-3 1-3 3; D. Manley 1-3 0-0 3; J. Manns 0-1 0-0 0; M. Henniger 1-1 1-2 3. Totals 23-48 20-28 76.
Three-point goals: ULL 5-16 (D. McClellan 3-4; D. Perez 1-4; R. Andrews 0-2; J. Brown 1-1; E. Payton 0-1; A. Thompson 0-4), KENT 10-16 (M. Porrini 1-1; C. Evans 1-2; R. Holt 3-4; E. Gaines 2-3; C. Guyton 2-3; D. Manley 1-3); Rebounds: ULL 27 (D. McClellan 7), KENT 29 (J. Greene 8); Assists: ULL 15 (D. McClellan 5), KENT 14 (M. Porrini 6); Total Fouls -- ULL 22, KENT 21; Fouled Out: ULL-None; KENT-None.