LAFAYETTE — On Saturday night, the McNeese State men's basketball team almost pulled off a miraculous comeback.
Instead, the Cowboys will have to think about the chances they missed in an 85-80 Louisiana-Lafayette win at the Cajundome.
McNeese dominated most of the first half, with the exception of the last few minutes, and also played well in the last few minutes of the game. But everything in between was controlled by the Ragin' Cajuns (2-0).
"I thought it was a great college basketball game," McNeese head coach Heath Schroyer said. "That's obviously a good team in a hard place to play. But we had our chances. We had shots to win it and plays to win it, and we just came up short. I give (the Cajuns) a lot of credit. They turned us over at costly times. But I'm proud of our guys, I think that we showed a lot of resolve."
The Cowboys (0-2) couldn't have asked for a better start, opening with a 5-0 run and leading by 10 points multiple times. Later on in the first half, leading 21-16, the Cowboys opened their largest lead of the game thanks to back-to-back Dru Kuxhausen 3-pointers and two A.J. Lawson free throws which gave McNeese a 29-16 lead.
From there, the Cajuns got hot and ended the half on a 16-4 run, highlighted by a Jalen Johnson three right before the halftime buzzer. That sent McNeese into halftime with the slimmest of leads at 33-32.
"We had four guys with two fouls with the last 19 seconds (of the first half)," Schroyer said. "We subbed, probably shouldn't have done that. We subbed and gave up a three at the end of the half. I think that really hurt us."
As bad as the end of the first half was for McNeese, the start of the second half was just as bad, if not worse. The Cajuns opened the second half with a 9-0 run and the Cowboys didn't score for the first 3:50 of the half before Trey Johnson and Lawson hit layups on consecutive possessions to break the scoring drought.
Junior Ragin' Cajuns guard Cedric Russell was a headache for the Cowboys, particularly in the second half. At one point Russell scored 11 straight points to give the Cajuns their largest lead, 56-42.
"The start of the second half, we were sluggish," Schroyer said. "They were quicker to the ball, quicker to the glass. And then we went a couple droughts where we stopped moving the ball and got sticky."
Through most of the second half, anytime McNeese seemed like it could cut into the Cajuns' lead and make a game of it, ULL would respond with a bucket or two and up its lead to eight or 10.
A Dou Gueye jumper gave the Ragin' Cajuns a 77-67 lead with 1:29 remaining, and it seemed like the game's outcome was an inevitability.
Three Cowboys baskets and two Cajuns turnovers later, McNeese was down 77-73 with 49 seconds remaining. Junior Leondre Washington then scored six consecutive points for McNeese and, combined with missed free throws by the Cajuns, the Cowboys were down 80-79 with 29 seconds left.
A Jalen Johnson free throw put the Cajuns back up by two, and on McNeese's next possession, Lawson was fouled. But at the line, he made one of two. The Cowboys were forced to foul, and the Cajuns made both free throws to go up 83-80.
On the ensuing possession, McNeese got the ball up court and found a wide-open Sam Baker in the corner, but he missed a potential tying 3. The Cajuns got the ball, hit two free throws and sealed the victory.
Kuxhausen led the Cowboys with 18 points, one of five McNeese players in double figures scoring. Roydell Brown had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Lawson and Washington finished with 11 points each and Sha'Markus Kennedy had 10 points and nine rebounds.
While the Cowboys improved their free-throw shooting (20 of 29) from their opening game against Western Michigan, they did commit 22 turnovers.