MEN’S BASKETBALL: Ragin’ Cajuns take SBC title

Jay Lively

Despite winning Sun Belt player of the year, and defensive player of the year, Mike Wells was out of contention Tuesday night for the one accolade he wanted most – a fourth consecutive Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship.

He and the rest of the Toppers could only look on from the second tier of Diddle Arena as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette celebrated at center court after their first tournament championship in four years.

Known for their potent offense, Lafayette relied more on a steady defensive performance to come away with a 67-58 win against New Orleans.

“We showed the University of Louisiana is the number one team in the Sun Belt this year,” coach Jessie Evans said. “We proved it throughout the year and we proved it in this three-game tournament.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns started slow, missing their first eight 3-pointers, but turned it on going 8-of-15 the rest of the way. On the other end, the Privateers connected on just 3-of-20 from behind the arc and shot 33.3 percent for the game.

Senior guards Antoine Landry and Brad Boyd led the way for Lafayette, scoring 16 and 15 points respectively while accounting for all eight Cajun 3-pointers.

“It seems like Boyd always throws daggers in,” New Orleans coach Monte Towe said. “He’ll miss two or three, but when they have to have one he nails it. And Landry made some big shots too.”

The Privateers jumped out to a 17-8 lead midway through the first half but the Ragin’ Cajuns closed the half with 17-9 run and took a 33-30 lead into halftime.

Lafayette got added boosts from junior forward Cedric Williams, who finished with 15 points and five rebounds, and senior guard Laurie Bridges, who finished with a game-high 12 rebounds along with eight points and three assists.

The Ragin’ Cajuns have played in four of the past seven Sun Belt championships, winning two during that span.

“We’ve remained right there or near the top every year,” Evans said. “We’ve always been there. We’ve always been on the cusp. Unfortunately at this level and in our league they only take one. We were determined in this tournament to get over the hump.”

Boyd, the player Topper fans love to hate, was named to the all-tournament team along with teammate Brian Hamilton, a junior forward.

“Four long years of Louisiana basketball and it pays off in the end,” Boyd said. “It feels great to do it here at Western because they’ve been our nemesis over the past three years. It adds a little to the victory. It’s a great feeling.”

Rounding out the all-tournament team were junior forward Michael Cuffee and senior guard Tommy Gunn, both of Middle Tennessee, and junior guard Brandon Freeman of Arkansas-Little Rock.

No player from Lafayette, however, made the regular season all-conference first team that included two Toppers-senior guard Mike Wells and senior center Nigel Dixon.

“We had the best (Sun Belt) record at 12-3, but we couldn’t get anyone on the first team,” Evans said. “I thought that was absurd. The guys really took that personal. But we play a team game and when you don’t have gaudy numbers that can happen.”

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