GAMES NOTES: The Houston Cougars will play the second game of a season-long six-game homestand on Saturday when they host the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns in a non-conference bout at Hofheinz Pavilion.
Louisiana has traded wins and losses in its last four contests with its most recent decision a 77-60 victory over Lamar at the Cajundome. In road games Louisiana has struggled a great deal with a 1-5 record. The only win came against fellow Sun Belt Conference squad North Texas. The Ragin' Cajuns won't have to be on the road long as they return to the Cajundome for their next two games, the first of which features a matchup with Robert Morris, an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago.
In the first game of the current homestand, Houston got all it could handle from Texas Southern, but managed to escape with a 78-75 overtime victory. With the win the Cougars are now 7-2 overall, including a solid 4-1 mark on their home floor. Houston's only loss at home came against Texas A&M (70-58) but in all the four victories the Cougars have scored at least 78 points. The next opponent for Houston will be Chicago State next Saturday.
Houston holds a slim lead in the all-time series with an 8-6 record against Louisiana. That includes a 78-65 Cougar victory in the last meeting during the 2010-2011 season which also took place at Hofheinz Pavilion.
Louisiana ran out to a 37-19 lead at halftime against Lamar and coasted in the second half to an easy double-digit victory. The Ragin' Cajuns shot just 39.7 percent in the contests, but outscored Lamar 24-3 from beyond the arc, while forcing 25 turnovers which they converted into 24 points. Alan-Nichae Thompson scored 18 points off the bench to lead four players in double figures.
Even in its losses Louisiana has been competitive this season and has played in a number of close games. Five of the Ragin' Cajuns' games have been decided by single digit point totals which is reflected in Louisiana's overall numbers. The Ragin' Cajuns are scoring 69.8 points per game, while shooting 41.2 percent from the field which is just slightly worse than opponents who scores 70.9 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting. Louisiana doesn't allow teams to move the ball particularly well by allowing only 9.2 assists per game, the 22nd best mark in the country. Louisiana has had a negative differential on the boards though (-4.5). Shawn Long (16.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg) has been a force on the interior for Louisiana with his strong efforts on the offensive end and on the glass. Elfrid Payton (13.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 5.4 apg) is a versatile guard that stuffs the stat sheet, while Bryant Mbamalu (11.2 ppg) has also been a spark on the offensive end.
The Cougars trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half against Texas Southern but clawed their way back and finally tied the game 66-66 with nine seconds remaining on a 3-pointer from Danuel House. The game then went to overtime where the Cougars went on a 6-0 spurt to open the extra period and hit free throws down the stretch to close it out. TaShawn Thomas (23 points, nine rebounds) and Joseph Young (21 points) both led the way for Houston.
Houston has been playing well offensively this season. The Cougars are scoring 77.7 points per game and shooting 45.4 percent from the field. The scoring average is in the top 40 nationally and has allowed the team to have a +10.4 scoring differential this season. Opponents are scoring 67.3 points per game on 40.6 percent shooting against the Cougars. Houston is also one of the better rebounding teams in the nation (42.1 pg), ranking 23rd nationally in that category. Thomas (17.6 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 2.4 bpg) has gotten it done at a high level on both ends of the floor. He scores in bunches and dominates in the paint with his rebounding and ability to block shots. Young (14.5 ppg) has provided a nice complement to Thomas in the backcourt. House (10.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) and Jherrod Stiggers (11.2 ppg) are also scoring in double figures. That quarter of players accounts for the majority of the offensive firepower with just one other player scoring more than 6.1 points per game.
The matchup between Long and Thomas could be a good one as the two frontcourt players are the focal points of their respective squads. Thomas has shown more ability at both ends and will give Houston an edge, while Young and House should be able to keep up with Payton in the backcourt.