Louisiana (11-5) at South Alabama (6-11)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, January 16, 8:05 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Mitchell Center (10,041) -- Mobile, Alabama. Television: None. Home Record: Louisiana 8-0, USA 6-3. Away Record: Louisiana 2-5, USA 0-6. Neutral Record: Louisiana 1-0, USA 0-2. Conference Record: Louisiana 2-1, USA 0-4. Series Record: Louisiana leads, 24-23.
GAME NOTES: The South Alabama Jaguars will try for the fifth time to win their first Sun Belt Conference game of the season on Thursday night when they welcome the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns to the Mitchell Center.
Louisiana has impressed this season with an 11-5 record, which includes a 2-1 start in conference play. The Cajuns wrapped up a two-game homestand with a Saturday victory over UT Arlington (90-70) and a triumph versus Texas State on Monday (81-58). However, while they are undefeated in Lafayette, they are just 2-5 on the road.
Since starting the campaign a respectable 6-5, South Alabama has gone into a tailspin with six straight losses, including four in a row to open up Sun Belt action. The Jaguars most recently dropped a 72-60 decision at Arkansas State on Saturday night, but the good news for this matchup is that all six of their wins have come at the Mitchell Center (6-3).
In regard to the all-time series, Louisiana has a slim 24-23 lead over South Alabama, although the Jaguars won the most recent meeting on Feb. 14, 2013, 88-64 in Mobile.
The Cajuns ran out to a 16-point halftime lead over Texas State earlier in the week and put the game on autopilot from that point forward en route to the blowout victory. They allowed Texas State to shoot 50 percent from the field, but they were even better at 56.3 percent (including 8-of-14 from 3-point range) an earned extra possessions by dominating the turnover battle, 18-9. Elfrid Payton was at the top of his game on both ends of the floor, shooting 8-of-11 from the field for 21 points while adding seven assists and six steals. Shawn Long manned the paint with 18 points and nine rebounds, while Bryant Mbamalu chipped in 14 points.
On the season, Louisiana boasts an outstanding offense, as it ranks first in the Sun Belt and tied for 12th nationally by pouring in 85.0 ppg on 47.6 percent from the field, which is more than enough to mask its lackluster scoring defense (75.9 ppg). Long (21.3 ppg) and Payton (20.2 ppg) rank second and third in the league in scoring and represent one of the best inside- outside duos in the country. Long tallies 10.9 ppg and 3.0 bpg, while shooting 55.3 percent from the floor, and Payton (.493 FG percentage) stuffs the stat sheet regularly with 6.1 apg, 5.5 rpg and 2.5 spg.
The Jaguars pieced together a disappointing all-around effort in their most recent tilt, as they were outshot from the field, 42.6 percent to 34.5 percent, and lost the rebounding battle, 41-33, on their way to the 12-point road setback. Aakim Saintil shot just 2-of-10 from the field but managed to knock down 6-of-7 at the free-throw line for 10 points. No one else finished in double figures, but Augustine Rubit (nine points, seven rebounds, two blocks) and Mychal Ammons (eight points, seven rebounds) were both solid in the frontcourt.
South Alabama has played stellar defense this season, as it allows just 67.9 ppg while ranking first in the Sun Belt in allowing opponents to shoot just 42.1 percent from the floor. Unfortunately, its offensive attack (.390, 69.5 ppg) has not been able to cut it. Rubit, the Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year, is living up to the billing with 16.3 ppg and 9.8 rpg, but his percentages from the floor (.436) and the free-throw line (.664) have been underwhelming. Antoine Allen (9.9 ppg) and Mychal Ammons (9.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg) narrowly miss the double-digit scorer's club.
Although Louisiana has clearly been the better team this season, its struggles on the road matched up against a South Alabama squad that has defended its homecourt well should result in a hard-fought battle from start to finish. In the end, the Cajuns' top-flight playmaking duo of Long and Payton will be too much for the Jaguars to handle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisiana 75, South Alabama 73
01/16 11:15:53 ET