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Sun Belt Semifinals Recap

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Sun Belt Semifinals Recap

Recap by Zach Van Hart

No. 1 Louisiana Lafayette 70, No. 5 Middle Tennessee State 66
It’s becoming a trend that teams are winning after grabbing a big lead, letting their opponents come almost all the way back, but never relinquishing the lead and holding on for the win. This happened again Monday night, as the Ragin’ Cajuns saw their at one time fourteen-point lead whittle down to one, before securing a 70-66 win against the Blue Raiders. The victory propelled the Cajuns to Tuesday’s tourney finals against New Orleans. Balanced scoring from the starters and the bench again proved to be crucial for Louisiana Lafayette. Its bench out-scored Middle Tennessee State’s 27-11, while four players scored in double figures. Junior forward Brian Hamilton led the team with seventeen points on 8-of-9 shooting.

Lafayette took its biggest lead of the game late in the first half with the score at 35-21. It would lead by eleven at the half, but MTSU repeatedly made big shots to keep the score close. In the end, it was ball management that doomed the Raiders and sent the Cajuns to victory. Middle Tennessee State turned the ball over nineteen times while only dishing seven assists. Lafayette had seventeen assists and only eleven turnovers. Tommy Gunn, needed more than ever with the hand injury to Mike Dean, came through with a game-high 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting, which included going 3-of-4 from behind the arc. Michael Cuffee turned in another solid performance of fifteen points, but it was not enough. The closest the Raiders would get is 58-57 at 5:44 mark, but never took the lead and the Ragin’ Cajuns hit their free throws down the stretch to ice the game.

No. 3 New Orleans 80, No. 2 Arkansas-Little Rock 65
Bo knows basketball and New Orleans knows about proving its doubters wrong. It’s safe to say when the collective head coaches from the Sun Belt predicted the Privateers to finish last in the West Division at the beginning of the season, they knew little about freshman Lester “Bo” McCalebb. Everyone is getting to know McCalebb real well now. He led the Privateers with nineteen points Monday, one of five players in double digits for UNO, as they advanced to the tournament finals with a convincing 80-65 win against Arkansas-Little Rock. The win sets up an all-Louisiana final Tuesday, as the Privateers will face No. 1 seed Louisiana Lafayette at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.

After going back and forth during the first 20 minutes, New Orleans held the slimmest of leads, 38-37. But behind McCalebb, they proved to be too much for the Trojans to handle. Little Rock did not help its case either, shooting 19-of-31 from the free-throw line and 1-of-10 from behind the arc during the second half. The key stat for New Orleans: six turnovers. This enabled the Privateers to take ten more shots than their opponents did, which proved to be the difference since both squads shot 42 percent from the field. Darius Eason, Brandon Freeman and Jamal Holden each scored fifteen points, but in the end it was too much McCalebb and New Orleans.

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