LAFAYETTE — Making his initial college start Saturday night, freshman Kasey Shepherd scored 13 points and added seven rebounds as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette ended a three-game Sun Belt Conference losing streak with a 61-56 win over Arkansas State at the Cajundome.
ASU (8-9, 5-3) defeated the Cajuns (7-10, 1-7) by 48-39 in the women’s game that preceded the men’s contest.
Shepherd, from Houston, said there was added pressure attached to his start, since he was replacing junior guard Bryant Mbamalu, who watched the game in street clothes because of an injured thumb.
“I really felt good about (starting). It was like a dream come true for me. Bryant was out, and he’s one of our leading scorers (14.0 points). And I knew that I had to be ready to step up to help my team,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd’s effort was complemented by freshman forward Shawn Long, a Mississippi State transfer, who scored 17 and added 16 rebounds, 12 off the defensive boards.
Long said he felt the Cajuns needed to play better than they did Dec. 27 when they lost to ASU 87-70 at Jonesboro.
“We went up there (to ASU), and they really put it on us. We knew we had a better team than that. I thought (on Saturday night) we got our confidence early when we took an early lead and it just built from there,” Long said.
ULL (7-12, 3-5) persevered at the end, despite not scoring a field goal for the final five minutes and 20 seconds and making only four of the last 10 free throws.
ULL coach Bob Marlin complimented his team’s effort, since the Cajuns dressed only nine players.
“We played real hard throughout. Our guys were going after balls, diving on the floor. We’re not the biggest team, but it’s one that’s going to play hard.
“I thought Long missed a couple of shots, but he had a couple of defensive rebounds for us,” Marlin said.
ASU (10-7, 4-4) started the night tied with Arkansas-Little Rock for first place in the West Division. That changed after UALR defeated Florida International (88-76) on Saturday.
Wolves’ coach John Brady said his team had chances to overcome a 13-point ULL lead with 13:51 remaining but was hurt by missed opportunities.
“The opportunities were there for us, we just didn’t score. We did some things at the end that hurt us, like stepping out of bounds with the ball on our end or not making our free throws,” Brady said.
Brady is 71-73 in his fifth season at ASU.
ULL’s late scoring problems enabled the Wolves to get back into the game. The Cajuns led by 10 (58-48) with 3:20 remaining, but ASU cut that to five when guard Trey Finn drove the lane, scored and made a free throw.
In the last 23 seconds, ASU turned the ball over on a lane violation, threw the ball out of bounds, and missed a shot with 8.2 seconds remaining.
ULL was 4-of-10 on 3-pointers in the first half, and the Cajuns led 33-24 at the intermission.
Two of those 3-pointers assisted the Cajuns in grabbing a 19-12 lead with 9:46 left before halftime. ASU made a brief run after that, outscoring ULL 7-0 over the next two minutes to tie the game at 19.
The Wolves scored only one field goal after that, however, as the Cajuns received seven points by freshman forward Shawn Long over the next 7:05 to help account for the nine point advantage at halftime.
ARKANSAS STATE 48, ULL 39: The Cajuns squandered a 15-14 halftime lead after their offensive game evaporated during the early minutes of the second half.
The Cajuns missed their first 11 field-goal attempts of the final period. ULL’s offensive problems enabled the Wolves to claim a 42-24 advantage with 7:19 remaining.
ULL staged a desperate comeback during the final 4:40, as the Cajuns cut the ASU lead to nine (46-37) in the final half minute.
For the game the Cajuns shot 28 percent. The Wolves shot 56 percent during the second half and 38 percent overall. ASU also established a 21-13 rebound advantage in the last 20 minutes.
Guard KeKe Veal led ULL’s scoring (16) after making 6-of-15 from the field.
Veal said the Cajuns weren’t the same team that led 13-4 early in the first half.
“If we had played like we did in the first half, we would have won the game,” said Veal.
Veal said the Cajuns experienced defensive lapses which led to ASU establishing command in the second half.
“I think we learned from this game to never take a break on defense and relax in transition,” said Veal, a freshman and one of six former St. Thomas More players on ULL’s 10-player game roster Saturday night.
ASU had three players finish in double figures. Those included forward Jane Morrill (14) and guards Ashley Olivera (12) and Hanna Qedan (10).
ASU freshman guard Josh Pierre is the son of former LSU and ULL assistant coach Butch Pierre. Pierre transferred to ASU from Oklahoma State, where he did not participate in basketball. Pierre was on Brady’s LSU staff for 11 seasons. Pierre is currently associate head coach at Oklahoma State.