Excitement builds as Cajuns prepare for Creighton in the NCAA tournament

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns men's basketball player Elfrid Payton is greeted by well-wishers Wedensday as he and the team leave the indoor practice facility for the Lafayette Regional Airport as they head to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in San Antonio.. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns men's basketball player Elfrid Payton is greeted by well-wishers Wedensday as he and the team leave the indoor practice facility for the Lafayette Regional Airport as they head to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament in San Antonio..

Sunbelt swag flies off shelves in wake of Cajuns’ trip to Texas

For fans of the Ragin’ Cajuns basketball team, Sunday’s win against the Georgia State Panthers was an emotional roller coaster that earned the team a Sunbelt Conference championship and catapulted the Cajuns to the national spotlight via the 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Now they want to see how far their guys can reach on college basketball’s biggest stage, and they’re getting dressed for the occasion.

Fans this week flocked to the Ragin’ Cajuns Red Zone, the official gear store on the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s campus.

There, official Sunbelt Conference and March Madness shirts are flying off the shelves, said Red Zone manager Christi Jeansonne.

“When we opened this morning, we had people waiting at the door to get them,” she said. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing and it’s been people wanting that gear.”

Cashier Kayla Sonnier said that on Monday people called and showed up looking for official Cajuns merchandise, which didn’t arrive until Wednesday.

The 82-81 win in overtime put the Cajuns in college basketball’s premier tournament for the first time since 2005, when they were eliminated in the first round by the Louisville Cardinals.

Cajuns fans said they don’t think they’ll go down that easy this year.

The Cajuns, 23-11, will play the Creighton Bluejays, a team sporting a 26-7 season record. The game is scheduled at 2:10 p.m. Friday.

“We’re the 14 seed and we’re playing the 3 seed,” said Ken Ardoin, vice president of university advancement at UL-Lafayette.

“(Creighton’s) star is on the front cover of Sports Illustrated,” Ardoin said. “He’s a big guy, and he can shoot from anywhere, but we’re so explosive. We’re fast, we don’t quit, and we got a lot of heart and soul. I wouldn’t count us out.”

“I think we match up well with them,” said Craig Melancon, a UL-Lafayette ’88 alumnus.

Melancon on Wednesday was buying all manner of Cajun wear — from T-shirts to temporary stick-on tattoos — before he departs for San Antonio.

“I think the guys are peaking at the right time to come out,” he said. “We’re going to have to hit some three-pointers and keep the score close.”

Melancon, who was still hoarse from yelling during the Cajuns game in New Orleans, said he was so excited about the game Friday it was affecting his work as a telecommunications engineer.

“I had sent my boss a file and he said, ‘Are you excited about this weekend?’ ” Melancon said.

“I said, ‘Yeah I’m ready to go, but I’m a little nervous.’ He goes, ‘I can tell because you need to redo this file. It’s wrong.’ ”

“He’s actually an LSU fan, but he’s supportive of me and the Cajuns, also,” Melancon said.

Jacob Whitson, 22, and Andy Thomas, 21, members of UL-Lafayette’s Pride of Acadiana Marching Band, also will be at the game. Both said they were blown away when the Cajuns beat Georgia State on Sunday.

“We were shocked,” Thomas said. “We were down by 10 (points) with 10 minutes to go. Like they normally do, they came back.”

Both said the Cajuns had a real chance of advancing in the NCAA Tournament.

“If we can shut down (Creighton forward Doug) McDermott, we have a good chance,” said Whitson. “We’re a lot more athletic than they are.”

Win or lose, Ardoin said, he was proud of the Cajuns for being the lone Louisiana team to win its way into the tournament.

“We’ve had a lot of emotion,” he said. “We’ve had a great season. We haven’t quit all year. Not many people ever get to go to the Big Dance, so it’s going to be exciting.”