Hot-shooting Hilltoppers trip Ragin’ Cajuns, 88-77

LAFAYETTE — University of Louisiana at Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton didn’t have to research too deeply to analyze his team’s 88-77 men’s college basketball loss to Western Kentucky on Saturday night at the Cajundome.

All Payton needed was a glance at the final statistics and he had the answer.

“Reasons why we lost? Well, (WKU) shot 50 percent of their 3s and they outrebounded us by eight,” said Payton, who finished with a game high 31 points.

The Cajuns (11-18, 7-11) entered the game winning four of the past six games.

ULL finished its Cajundome schedule 10-5.

Ragin’ Cajuns coach Bob Marlin offered no excuses for the loss.

“We just got beat. I thought we started off slow offensively, and Western Kentucky just came out and stuck it to us. We haven’t played that badly in the first half this season,” Marlin said.

ULL faced an uphill climb most of the game.

The Cajuns trailed by 13 midway through the first half.

Then over the next four minutes the Hilltoppers started pulling away, outscoring ULL 14-4 to lead by 18 with 4:50 left.

In the second half ULL outscored WKU 9-3 in the early minutes and cut a 17-point halftime deficit to nine, 59-50, with 12:37 left.

ULL trailed by double digits the remainder of the way despite Western Kentucky’s inability to make a field goal over the last 1:39.

WKU entered the game losing six of the past nine contests. It marked the second time the Hilltoppers (15-14, 9-9) defeated ULL.

WKU defeated the Cajuns 72-49 in Bowling Green, Ky., last month.

Hilltoppers’ guard T.J. Price, who played at Slidell’s Salmen High, finished with 23, despite missing a long strentch of the second half on the bench after getting his fourth foul with 11:17 remaining.

With Price on the bench, WKU gave the ball to guard Brandon Harris, who came off the bench and scored 16 in the final 20 minutes.

“I thought we cut into the lead in the second, but Harris got them back in it with those three 3’s. We didn’t do a good job of the 3-point defense tonight,” said Payton, who was 9-of-13 from the field, but missed all three of his 3-pointers.

Western Kentukcky coach Ray Harper praised his team’s offensive patience.

“I thought it was one of our best passing games. We were always looking for the next play, but tonight, we were making the extra pass and we were seeking the best shot,” Harper said.

Harper said the Hilltoppers were battling to create some offensive shots despite the Cajuns’ trapping defense.

“They were doing a good job with the trap and yet we were making that extra pass,” Harper said.

Price led WKU’s 10-for-20 3-point shot effort, making four of seven attempts.

Overall, Western Kentucky was 10-of-20 from 3-point range.

ULL got 14 points from forward Shawn Long, who added 13 rebounds.

The Ragin’ Cajuns finish the regular season on the road at Louisiana-Monroe (March 2) and Arkansas-Little Rock (Feb. 28).

Harris said Harper has been requesting more offensive effort from him.

“In practice I’ve been practicing a game called 21, where I’m shooting three’s all the time. Coach (Harper) said to shoot it more. If you don’t shoot it, the ball will never go in,” Harris said.