Two seasons ago, former John Ehret standout Elfrid Payton scored 23 points against Scotlandville in the Class 5A state semifinals at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s Cajundome.
Payton had such a solid performance at ULL’s arena that he decided to stay in Lafayette. He’s a sophomore now at ULL and one of the team’s offensive playmakers.
As the starting point guard, he is averaging a team-high 15.2 points, tied for fifth in the Sun Belt Conference. His 5.2 assists per game rank second in the conference and his 2.3 steals per game lead the conference. All this while averaging 35.1 minutes, second-highest in the Sun Belt.
On Jan. 10, Payton scored a season-high 26 points in a losing effort against South Alabama. While he’s always excelled at getting to the rim, Payton has improved his jump shot, a major difference in his offensive arsenal.
Payton is one of three New Orleans natives on the ULL roster, including reserve forwards Elridge Moore (St. Augustine) and Cornell Barnett (McDonogh 35), whom coach Bob Marlin challenged this week to contribute more on game days.
“We had only four players that scored basically the first 39 minutes of the game,” Marlin said. “We need to get more from our bench, get more production and more shots go in from our guys instead of (just) the top four.”
The New Orleans trio will also have an extra opportunity to play in their hometown the next few seasons. Starting in 2014, the Sun Belt Conference Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships will be held at Lakefront Arena. New Orleans will host the tournament through 2016.
For Payton, it all makes for a great fit at ULL.
“I just liked the culture around there, the history,” Payton said. “They had some really good teams a couple of yeasr back, and even way back in the 1960s and 1970s with (Dwight) Bo Lamar and Andrew Toney.”
Payton wants to add his name to the school’s list of all-time greats, but first, he knows the Ragin Cajuns, 8-16 overall and 4-9 in the Sun Belt Conference, must overcome the youthful issues on the court, starting on defense.
Entering Sunday’s home game against Louisiana-Monroe (3-15, 2-10), the Ragin Cajuns lead the conference in scoring, averaging 70.5 points a game, but rank last in team defense (73.8).
He wants ULL, a team featuring five freshmen and four sophomores, to take defense personal. Sure, guys are going to give up shots. That’s part of the game. But such moments can be limited with more energetic efforts.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” Payton said of his team’s defensive liabilities. “One night it might be transition. Another night it might be we didn’t talk enough. It’s not the game plan. It’s everybody as a whole needs to hold themselves accountable, including myself.”