LAFAYETTE, La. — Elfrid Payton, Alan-Michael Thompson and Shawn Long combined to score 61 points, including 15 of the Cajuns final 17 points, as Louisiana won its 10th game in the Cajundome for the fourth straight season, topping Troy, 76-66, on Thursday night.
The win, the fourth in six game for Louisiana, improves the Cajuns to 11-17 and 7-10 in Sun Belt play. If the season were to end today, the Ragin' Cajuns would enter the tourney as the eighth seed, facing No. 9 Troy (11-17, 6-11) in an opening round game.
“We got a great start tonight offensively,” Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin said. “We got a little sloppy just before half, otherwise we could have had a much bigger lead.
“We let them get back into the game in the second half but we never let them get the lead and that shows the kind of team that this group is becoming. Once they tied the game, we regrouped and took the rest of the game one possession at a time and we finished the win.
“I said at the start of the year that this group had some talent, but because we had so many young players who hadn't played together before, that it would take awhile to come together. You can see how that has happened over the last couple of weeks. Now we need to continue playing hard and go into the Sun Belt Championship playing our best basketball,” Marlin added.
The Cajuns led from start to finish in the contest with the game being tied just twice.
Louisiana opened up a 42-28 lead with 15:37 left to play before the Trojans rallied, scoring 13 of the next 15 points to close to within 44-41 with 13:20.
Troy would eventually tie the game at both 57-57 (5:37) and 59-59 (5:02), on a pair of field goals by Deonata Jethroe, but Thompson connected on back-to-back treys and Long converted a pair of free throws to push the Cajuns out to a 67-60 lead with 3:09 mark.
Louisiana made nine of its 10 free throws down the stretch to extend the lead and secure the win.
Payton led the Cajuns with 23 points while Thompson added 20 and Long 18. Jethroe led the Trojans with 20 points while Hunter Williams added 14 and Ray Chambers came off the bench to score 15.
Payton was again brilliant in taking control of the Cajuns. He was seven-for-13 from the field, adding nine rebounds, five assists and four steals while going a perfect nine-for-nine from the line. It was his seventh 20-point game of the season.
Defensively, Payton shined as well. He entered the contest ranked 15th in the nation in steals but almost doubled his season average. The four steals raised his season total to 69, moving him into fourth on the Louisiana single season list.
Thompson continued his torrid scoring in league play, recording his eighth double-figure and second 20-point effort in 15 league games. He matched his career high with six three-pointers in nine attempts, raising his three-point shooting percentage to .429 (33-77) over his last 13 games.
“Mike has worked hard and deserves everything he has gotten,” Marlin said. “With Senior Night coming on Saturday, he is really playing with a solid focus.”
Long scored a quiet 18 points, going five-for-nine from the field and eight-for-10 from the line, adding nine rebounds and matching his career high with five blocked shots. He raised his season block total to 58, moving him into sixth place on the Louisiana single season list.
Louisiana had a strong game offensively, hooting .489 from the field (23-47), including a seven-for-15 effort from three-point (.467). Most importantly, the Cajuns were 23-for-28 from the line (.821).
The Cajuns stormed out of the gates, making their first six shots of the game to open up a 14-2 lead with 15:20 left.
The lead would grow to 13 on a Long basket that made it 18-5 with 12:23 left.
After missing their first five three-point attempts, Troy caught fire, making four straight that allowed them to pull to within 20-18 with 7:09 left.
Louisiana answered with seven straight points, including four by Payton, to jump out ahead, 27-18 with 3:48 remaining.
The Cajuns led, 34-26, at halftime, and then opened the second half with an 8-2 burst that let them open up a 42-28 lead at the 15:37 mark.
The Cajuns remain at home this week to close out the 2012-13 home schedule on Saturday (Feb. 23) with a 7:30 p.m. game against WKU. The game is a doubleheader with the Louisiana women's team facing WKU at 5:00 p.m. with both games being televised by the Sun Belt Network. Fans are encouraged to wear white with the first 1,000 fans in attendance receiving a free t-shirt, courtesy of Russell Athletic.