Cajuns Beat Panthers In Overtime, Win Conference Championship
Louisiana's Ragin' Cajun basketball team is on their way to the NCAA tournament, punching their ticket after winning a thrilling Sun Belt Conference championship game over Georgia State, upending the Panthers 82-81 in overtime.
Louisiana has shown resiliency this season. After two losses to Georgia State and WKU early in the season, the Cajuns were 12-9. With their backs against the wall, the Cajuns would go on to win 11 of their next 13, culminating with a berth to the NCAA tournament.
Sunday's game versus Georgia State was an instant classic, with the Cajuns resilient spirit being put on display. Down 11 with 5:21 left, Louisiana fought back to eventually tie the game with 1.4 seconds left.
On the final offensive possession of regulation, Shawn Long grabbed a crucial rebound and then assisted the game-tying bucket.
“They collapsed on me when I got the rebound," said Long. "I just so happen to see Bryant (Mbamalu) open under the basket. Instead of forcing a shot, I dished it off to him.”
Mbamalu only had 2 points in the first half, but finished the game with 13, never letting up. He was named the Sun Belt Conference tournament most outstanding player. Perhaps more outstanding than his play is his positivity.
"Bryant means a lot of our team. He’s a great leader. He keeps positivity in the locker room. I’m blessed to be on the team with him," said Long of his teammate. "He helps keep me and other guys on the team in a positive mood.”
In overtime, Xavian Rimmer missed the front end of a 1 in 1, Panther guard Ryan Harrow had a chance to win it at the end, but his field goal came up just short. When he did, the Cajuns erupted in emotion, celebrating a Conference championship and their first NCAA tournament berth since 2005.
Rimmer scored a career-high 27, including 7 three-pointers. He was named to the Sun Belt Conference All Tournament team.
“I told him this morning that we all wanted him to shoot it," said coach Bob Marlin on Rimmer's play. "He’s a gamer. I’m excited he made the All-Tournament team.”
Elfrid Payton finished with 19 points and 6 assists. Long had a double-double of 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Rebounding was a big key to the Cajuns victory. Louisiana beat Georgia State 46-30 on the glass. They also beat the Panthers in fan noise.
"Our fans were awesome today," said Marlin. "They were creating amazing noise throughout the game."
“Holy cow, it was so vocal," said UL director of athletics Scott Farmer. "The Cajun (fans) came out in force…it was so noisy.”
The Cajuns head to the dance with an overall record of 23-11. They'll find out their destination, seed, and opponent in the NCAA tournament at 5:00 this afternoon.
Stay tuned to espn1420.com for the details.