Game #9-048: Louisiana-Lafayette at Texas Southern TigersNovember 16, 2012 8:00 pm
Health & P.E. Arena
A business meeting in Houston gave me an opportunity to attend a game far from my Indiana home. Checking the Basketball State maps a couple of weeks in advance, I determined that the Louisiana-Lafayette at Texas Southern game would fit nicely into my schedule, and made plans to check it out. Not knowing much about either team, I did a little research and found a few interesting tidbits on each of them.
The Ragin' Cajuns are coached by Bob Marlin, who previously established Sam Houston State as a perennial power in the Southland Conference. Beginning his third season in Lafayette, Marlin is still working to build a comparable level of success with an overall record of 31-31 there. His school is in the midst of a decades-long identity crisis. Founded in 1898 as the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute, it subsequently renamed itself to the Southwestern Louisiana Institute, then to the University of Southwestern Louisiana. Finally, in 1984, the school changed its name to the University of Louisiana and issued diplomas that year under that name. However, the Louisiana Legislature nullified the change and required them to revert to its prior name. So it was that the University of Southwestern Louisiana continued until 1999. At that time, a compromise of sorts was finally reached - USL was allowed to be renamed as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, provided that Northeast Louisiana University at the same time changed its name to the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Apparently, those associated with Louisiana State University would not stand for there to be a University of Louisiana, so instead forced the creation of two Universities of Louisiana, each requiring its own qualifier. Note that this political power seemingly did not extend sufficiently to prohibit the creation of the fictional school, The University of Louisiana, in the 1998 feature film, The Waterboy, suggesting that perhaps the University of Louisiana at Lafayette could have benefited by adding Adam Sandler to its Board of Trustees. To this day, there still seems to be a struggle on this issue, as the university's official website puts much greater emphasis (both in color and in font) on "The University of Louisiana" or "UL" than it does on "Lafayette".
The challenges are a bit more serious for the home team, as Texas Southern was hammered last month by the NCAA for "a lack of institutional control," which seems like quite an understatement. As a "double repeat violator," the university has either been on probation or had violations occurring on campus, or both, for 16 of the past 20 years. They allowed 129 student-athletes in 13 sports during seven academic years to compete and receive financial aid and travel expenses when they were ineligible. The former men's basketball coach was cited as providing false or misleading information during the investigation, and was also cited for making an arrangement with the former football coach to put two student-athletes on football scholarship to circumvent scholarship limits placed on the basketball program; of course, neither of these two athletes ever played football for the university. That former coach was Tony Harvey, who resigned abruptly in July to "pursue other goals." Harvey also hit the national headlines this past February, when his home was burglarized by two former Texas Southern players, who stole over $500,000 of items. Harvey earlier received attention on this site in 2011 when, after a 16-2 regular season SWAC championship, he was quoted as having bought a new suit for the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately for his suit, Harvey's squad got bounced by Alabama State in the semi-finals of the SWAC Conference Tournament, and it was unable to be utilized for its intended purpose. In my research, I was unable to determine if the suit was part of the stolen merchandise.Into this mess at Texas Southern steps new coach Mike Davis, who indeed has some experience in stepping into messes. Davis took over suddenly upon the firing of Bob Knight at Indiana in September of 2000, and was coaching in the national championship game a year and a half later. After up-and-down stints at both Indiana and UAB, Davis was named interim coach at Texas Southern in August. After the latest NCAA sanctions were announced (including five years of probation, a 2012-13 post-season ban, and significant future limitations on scholarships and recruiting), Davis was provided a four-year contract. Welcome to Texas Southern, Coach!
After battling some brutal Houston traffic, I entered the Health & PE Center with little idea of what to expect. Louisiana-Lafayette came in 1-0 with a home court victory over Oakland, while Texas Southern entered its home opener after two blowout losses at Boise State and Northwestern. My first impression upon going into the arena confirmed that I was going to be watching a basketball game in a football state. Here was the view fifteen minutes before the tip.
The crowd filled in a bit by the time the game began, and continued to build throughout the first half. Those fans who arrived at the start of the game were strongly encouraged to take their feet until the home team got on the scoreboard. This prompted a young man two rows in front of me to then say to his friend, "Man, I hope we score quick, I'm beat." After the Tigers' first offensive possession concluded with a three-pointer from the baseline being shot about two feet over the basket, I also suddenly began to have some concern about how long I'd have to be standing. Fortunately, a Ray Penn three-pointer ended the anxiety just two minutes into the action.
The rest of the first half was a rather lethargic stretch of play filled with turnovers and poor shot selection. The home team elevated its game over the last five minutes, with a 9-0 run over that time to take a 29-19 lead at the intermission.
Halftime entertainment was provided by TSU's marching band, the Ocean of Soul, which I learned was making one of its first appearances since being sanctioned itself. Ten upperclassmen trumpet players were suspended from the university for a hazing incident against nine freshmen, a result which was announced just hours after the NCAA handed down its reprimand. The 190 band members who did perform brought an energy to the arena far in excess of anything displayed in the first half of basketball. Their show was certainly designed for the football field; when brought inside, I'm sure their movements were restrained, but the sound was awesome!
I don't know if the band's energy carried over to the team or if the orange slices in the locker room were extra vitamin-fortified, but each team came out with a much greater sense of urgency to begin the second half. The visitors particularly picked up their defensive intensity. The backcourt combo of Bryant Mbamalu and Elfrid Payton, neither of whom did much of anything in the first half, was suddenly very productive on both ends of the floor. Those two finally provided a complement to freshman big man Shawn Long, who almost single-handedly kept the Ragin' Cajuns competitive in the first half.
On the other end of the court, 6'9" TSU senior Kyrie Sutton emerged as a compelling figure. Sutton, who was dismissed from Binghamton a year ago after several legal incidents, was active on the floor, but became very tentative with the ball at the rim. Davis chided him on a couple of occasions, and the coach was visibly frustrated when two point-blank lay-up opportunities by Sutton each rolled meekly off the rim. Because of this uneven play, the big man went on and off the bench throughout the second half.
Louisiana-Lafayette appeared to have control of the game when back-to-back scores by Mbamalu and Payton gave them a three-point lead with just over four minutes to go, but Penn struck back with another three-pointer for the Tigers to even the score. TSU then opened up a small lead, and seemed headed for a victory when, with TSU owning a four-point lead with 1:22 left to play, Mbamalu fouled out of the game.
When his fifth foul was announced, a frenzy shot through the crowd of 1,204, and almost everyone jumped to their feet as the arena DJ (yep, they had a DJ on site) played Maceo's "Go Sit Down" (yep, I had to Google that). We had a minute-long dance party as Mbamalu indeed did go sit down, and I admittedly spent the rest of the game hoping that the Ragin' Cajuns' Elridge Moore (who then had four fouls) would get whistled for his fifth so that we could relive that moment.
Unfortunately for the home team, TSU's Fred Sturdivant missed both free throws, and the Elfrid Payton Show began. Payton hit a jumper in the lane to trim the margin to two and, after a defensive stop, he drove the lane in the final seconds and attempted an off-balance lay-up. His shot missed, and a follow-up dunk by Long was waved off as occurring after the buzzer. After the officials huddled for a couple of minutes, a foul was called on TSU, and Payton was sent to the line. As the referee checked the monitor to see how much time should be put back on the clock, the Tiger cheerleaders sprinted down the court and positioned themselves immediately at the bottom of the basket support to harrass Payton during his free throw attempts. The referee forced them back a few feet, and Payton calmly sank both free throws to force overtime.
The extra session stayed competitive throughout, and I got the feeling that this game could continue for quite some time. TSU held a one-point lead late in the game and forced a turnover to take possession with eight seconds to play. After a long struggle to in-bound the ball, one Tiger alertly rushed to the other end of the court, getting free to receive a long pass and getting tackled soon after receiving the pass. That player, the maligned Kyrie Sutton, then stepped to the line and drilled both free throws. After a semi-desperate three-pointer by Payton caromed off the rim, Coach Davis and the Tigers celebrated a hard-fought victory.
This was a rare non-conference win for the SWAC. In a quick check of the 2011-12 schedules, the SWAC appeared to have gone 7-98 against non-conference Division I opponents. Texas Southern claimed one such win, a 66-49 win over Eastern Michigan, which was also their only non-conference home game. Such is life in the SWAC. This new opportunity will present a number of new challenges for Coach Davis, and the recruiting limitations will make things even more difficult for the next few years. If he needs a mission statement during these tough times, he need only look up in the rafters across from his seat on the bench. I suspect, at least for a while, that the fulfillment of this goal will be easier to read than to do.
at TEXAS SOUTHERN 74, LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 71
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 1-1 (0-0) -- S. Long 8-16 2-2 20; E. Payton 5-17 4-6 15; E. Moore 0-3 0-0 0; B. Mbamalu 7-13 3-5 18; K. Brown 3-9 0-0 9; A. Thompson 2-7 1-3 5; S. Wronkoski 0-4 0-0 0; B. Lazare 1-3 0-0 2; K. Shepherd 1-2 0-0 2; M. Moss 0-1 0-1 0. Totals 27-75 10-17 71.
TEXAS SOUTHERN 1-2 (0-0) -- O. Strong 4-14 3-4 14; R. Penn 6-11 2-4 17; F. Sturdivant 6-8 2-5 14; M. Gibbs 2-6 3-6 7; K. Sutton 3-11 6-6 12; L. Johnson-Danner 2-6 2-2 7; D. Ellington 0-2 2-3 2; A. Clayborn 0-2 1-2 1. Totals 23-60 21-32 74.
Three-point goals: ULL 7-23 (K. Brown 3-7; B. Mbamalu 1-4; E. Payton 1-4; A. Thompson 0-2; S. Long 2-4; K. Shepherd 0-1; S. Wronkoski 0-1), TXSO 7-22 (R. Penn 3-6; L. Johnson-Danner 1-5; D. Ellington 0-1; O. Strong 3-10); Rebounds: ULL 47 (S. Long 13), TXSO 40 (F. Sturdivant 11); Assists: ULL 9 (E. Payton 4), TXSO 7 (R. Penn 4); Total Fouls -- ULL 25, TXSO 19; Fouled Out: ULL-B. Mbamalu; TXSO-None.