GAME NOTES: A pair of teams sporting identical 6-10 conference records square off on Thursday night, as Sun Belt rivals Troy and Louisiana mix it up at the Cajundome.
Troy has struggled to get much going this season, as it sits with just an 11-16 overall record, which includes a lowly 2-10 mark away from home. Since winning back-to-back games in late January, the Trojans have dropped four of their last six, including a heart-breaking 63-61 defeat at home versus North Texas last Saturday. With one more win, head coach Don Maestri will register his 500th career victory.
Louisiana too has had a lackluster campaign, sitting with an even worse overall record than Troy (10-17), but the good news is that it has performed well on its home floor (9-4), which includes three straight wins at the Cajundome. In their most recent outing, the Cajuns used a last-second shot to down Florida Atlantic in thrilling fashion on Saturday, 58-57.
Louisiana leads the all-time series with Troy, 7-5, although the Trojans defeated the Cajuns in the first matchup this season, 71-52, at home on Feb. 2.
The Trojans battled tooth and nail against North Texas last weekend, as the teams traded blows to the tune of 16 lead changes, but they ultimately fell on the wrong side of the two-point decision by shooting just 42.6 percent from the field while allowing the Mean Green a 51 percent showing. Hunter Williams scored 21 points in recording his second straight 20-plus point performance. Deonata Jethroe struggled from the floor (3-of-11), but he still finished with a true double-double consisted of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
On the season, Troy has one of the worst offensive attacks in the Sun Belt, as it averages a meager 62.3 ppg behind an uninspired shooting effort (.402 overall, .315 from 3-point range). Emil Jones has been a solid contributor across the board with 11.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.9 apg and 1.7 spg. Williams shoots just 37.7 percent from the field, but he averages 10.5 ppg and hands out a team-high 3.3 apg.
The Cajuns put forth a poor offensive effort by their standards against FAU last Saturday, shooting just 20-of-57 from the field (.351), but trailing by one with just five seconds remaining, Elfrid Payton converted the game-winning layup to give his team the victory. Payton scored 14 points and stuffed the stat sheet elsewhere as well with eight rebounds, five assists, five steals and two blocks. Shawn Long tallied 16 points, eight boards and three blocks, while Alan-Michael Thompson (13 points) and Bryant Mbamalu (10 points) were also productive.
The 58-point effort the last time out was far from the norm for Louisiana, as it is tied for the top spot in the Sun Belt with an average of 70.6 ppg, but it has fallen on hard times thanks to its league-worst scoring defense (73.4 ppg). Long is one of the SBC's elite forwards, ranking among the league- leaders in points (15.6 ppg), rebounding (10.3 rpg) and blocks (2.0 bpg). Payton is also a multi-category stud, logging 15.2 ppg and 5.6 rpg to go along with Sun Belt-bests of 5.3 apg and 2.4 spg. With Bryant Mbamalu contributing 14.1 ppg, the Cajuns have an outstanding trio of scorers upon which to rely most nights.
The Trojans will be eager to get coach Maestri his 500th win, but with Louisiana's impressive play at home combined with its strong offensive attack going against a suspect Troy defense, expect the Cajuns to prevail.