The Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns survived another nail-biter against the Sun Belt champion Georgia State Panthers to advance to the NCAA tournament.
Georgia State was the clear favorite entering the Sun Belt tournament, but they couldn’t hold off the Rajun’ Cajuns. Lafayette was down 10 with just under four to play, but the Rajun’ Cajuns stormed back to force overtime on a layup with just over a second left by Bryant Mbamalu and held off the Panthers in overtime.
The Rajun’ Cajuns had a solid season, going 23-11, including 11-7 in conference, but had no chance at a NCAA tournament bid without winning the conference tournament. They put things together at the right time, knocking off the second-seeded Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the semi-finals and then the Panthers today, two teams that the Rajun’ Cajuns lost to twice in the regular season.
Lafayette has a pair of big-time players in Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long, who average 19.1 and 18.9 points per game, respectively, this season. Both had big games against Georgia State, as Payton scored 19 and Long had a double-double with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
To be a factor in the NCAA tournament, the Rajun’ Cajuns will need some other players to step up in support. Veteran guards Mbamalu and Xavian Rimmer have done that in the conference tournament and will need to keep doing the same. Mbamalu had 20 and 23 points, respectively, in the first two games of the conference tournament and Rimmer had a career-high 27 in the victory over the Panthers.
Lafayette has hit their stride at the right time, winning 11 of their last 13. Playing their best basketball of the season right now, Lafayette could have a shot at pulling an upset in the NCAA tournament.