PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns are headed back to the NCAA Men’s Tournament. Louisiana edged South Alabama 71-66 in Monday night’s Sun Belt Conference Tournament Championship Game inside the Pensacola Bay Center.
HOW IT HAPPENED:
South Alabama jumped out early with a 9-3 lead as the Jaguars made four of their first six field goal attempts. Louisiana answered with a pair of free throws and then a layup by Terrence Lewis II.
Jaguars quickly pushed back up to seven-point advant age but Cajuns hung around as Themus Fulks made a layup and his second three-pointer. A few moments later, Louisiana’s Michael Thomas hit a three-pointer which cut the lead to 20-17.
Louisiana then took the lead as it forced back-to-back tunrovers and Jordan Brown made back-to-back jumpers. South Alabama reclaimed the lead with a 7-0 run but Louisiana answered with a 7-0 run of their own.
The back-and-forth continued as the Jaguars went on a 8-0 run. The Ragin’ Cajuns were eventually able to make it a two-point game after a Jalen Dalcourt three but that proved to be the final points of the half. Louisiana would go the final 2:57 without scoring while South Alabama added only one bucket — a layup by Marshall Kearing.
At the break, South Alabama led 37-33.
Early in the second half, South Alabama pushed its lead to six points after a Tyrell Jones layup. That’s when Louisiana came alive.
Fulks made back-to-back buckets which ignited a 15-4 run for the Ragin’ Cajuns. With less than 11 minutes to go, Louisiana held a 51-46 lead.
Louisiana maintained its slim lead for the next few minutes but South Alabama cut right into it with a jumper by Isaiah Moore and then a layup by Kevin Samuel. Isaiah Richard was called for a flagrant foul on Samuel and was ejected. Samuel though missed both of his free throw attempts.
Through the first 32 minutes of play, Moore and Samuel combined for 38 of South Alabama’s 56 points.
Louisiana kept its lead and after a pair of free throws by Fulks, the Ragin’ Cajuns led 65-59 with 2:43 to go.
South Alabama made it a one-possession game after making five of six free throw attempts. With 53.7 left in the game, Louisiana held a 65-64.
The Ragin’ Cajuns responded as Dalcourt hit a jumper to give Louisinaa a 67-64 lead with 27.9 seconds left.
South Alabama’s Moore then made two more free throws to make it a one possession game again. The Jaguars were then called for a foul on the ensuing inbounds pass and Lewis went to the line and drained two free throws.
With 12.8 seconds, Louisiana held a 69-66 lead.
South Alabama came down and White had an open look at the game-tying three-pointer but it rimmed out. Kentrell Garnett pulled down the rebound and made the free throws to seal the victory.
BIG NUMBER: 9
Louisiana returns to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years — the last time coming in 2014 when they lost to Creighton in the first round.
PLAYERS OF THE GAME: THEMUS FULKS & JORDAN BROWN
Louisiana’s starting point guard stepped up in a huge way as Fulks led the Ragin’ Cajuns with 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, including going 3-of-6 from three-point range. Brown meanwhile had a workmanlike double-double as he scored 13 points and pulled down 16 rebounds.
UP NEXT: Louisiana (26-7) will now wait to find out what seed they receive and what region they will be placed in the NCAA Men’s Tournament. The selection show will take place on Sunday.