Upon reflection, the Cajuns probably would have preferred that ULM not upset the Red Wolves on Thursday night. Led by a fired-up Mike Balado, Arkansas State assumed the lead a little more than two minutes in the game and never relinquished. Norchad Omier, who recorded an arena record 26 boards on Thursday, gobbled 13 more in the first half against the Cajuns. Desi Sills, who has struggled with his shot of late, was a crisp 7/12 for 15 points on Saturday, and Markise Davis added 13 from the bench as the Red Wolves delivered a 67-58 victory before the most hyped home crowd of the season.
The difference, however, wasn’t necessarily the offensive contributions – the defense came out aggressive and rarely let up, creating 20 turnovers on 13 steals. The Cajuns couldn’t move. The Cajuns couldn’t even breathe! Louisiana head coach Bob Marlin was clearly frustrated all evening, at one point screaming at Balado to “get off the court.” Later, the tensions would mount between the coaches until Balado was tagged with a technical with about a minute left to play.
The technical foul could have proved costly, as the Cajuns were still within two scores, but the Red Wolves had their coach’s back, draining pivotal free-throws and closing out the game.
“I’m so proud of my guys,” said Coach Balado after the game, “They came out with great energy.”
The energy proved essential, but not without risk or cost. By the end of the game, several Red Wolves were in foul trouble, with Norchad Omier fouling out just two points shy of another double-double. Omier would finish with 8 points, 17 boards and a blocked shot.
“Norchad didn’t get double figures today, but other guys stepped up,” said Balado.
Stepping up and providing huge minutes in Omier’s absence was Antwon Jackson, the 6’7″ 280-lb forward who not only provided two steals and a block in the paint, but also contributed 10 points.
“When we watch the film, I can guarantee you that (Jackson) will have an opportunity to win our MVP,” gushed Balado.
“You got to win home games,” admitted Balado, clearly chagrinned by the loss to the Warhawks. A win would have put Arkansas State atop the standings. Instead, the Red Wolves share third place, a game and a half behind Appalachian State and one game behind Troy.
However, the Red Wolves might have emerged from the tunnel on Saturday crestfallen and beaten. Instead, they renewed their resolve through aggressive defense and slightly improved offense. The Red Wolves put the lid on the Cajuns deep bench, limiting them to just 10 points. While Louisiana’s best player, Jordan Farmer, obtained his usual 20 points and 12 boards, the team’s remaining bigs – Theo Akwuba and Dou Gueye – were held to just 10 points. Arkansas State’s Antwon Jackson proved himself durable, capable and productive on the inside.
Yesterday’s win also underscores a basic truth – the Red Wolves need contributions from the guards to deliver victories. Desi Sills was murder with his inside drives and lay-ins, and Markise Davis has provided an added level of scoring that the team sorely missed in his absence.
The Red Wolves embark on a tough four-game road swing this week, taking on top conference teams in Mobile, Troy, and San Marcos. If the Red Wolves are too remain a top-tier Sun Belt team, they will need to deliver more team efforts like the one we saw on Saturday.
PHOTO CREDIT: Mine. MINE!