Russell Harrison recorded a double-double with a game-high 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds and three other Warhawks scored in double figures as ULM ended a 10-game losing streak in Sun Belt Conference play with a 72-66 victory over the rival Ragin' Cajuns Thursday night in the Cajundome. It also marked ULM's first win in Lafayette since Jan. 19, 2015, 57-55.
The Warhawks led from start to finish Thursday night while posting their first conference win since Jan. 2 (62-55 over Arkansas State).
"I'm happy for our players," ULM head coach Keith Richard. "Despite all the close losses, these guys have continued to work from week to week, so I was glad to see them excited about not just winning a game but winning a close game. That's what was important tonight, and hopefully, it will be a big thing for this team moving forward.
"We made some offensive plays late in the second half, especially in the last four minutes. In some of those recent loses, we went dry for 2-3 minutes and couldn't close out the game. Tonight, we made some big offensive plays down the stretch that helped seal the win. It was a physical game and our guys really earned the win tonight."
ULM (5-15, 3-10 Sun Belt) put together an early 11-0 run and took a 16-3 lead on Harrison's 3-pointer from the left corner, off an offensive rebound from Chris Efretuei, with 11:48 left in the first half. The Ragin' Cajuns went 0-for-8 from the field and committed four turnovers during that stretch of 5:23.
Harrison hit the second of two free-throw attempts to give the Warhawks a 17-point advantage at 22-5 with 8:04 remaining in the first half. ULM matched its largest lead at 27-10 as Erie Olonade drained a 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 5:44 on the clock.
The Ragin' Cajuns (13-7, 7-6) reeled off 10-straight points and cut their deficit to 27-20 on Mylik Wilson's drive from the right wing for a layup with 2:27 to play in the opening half.
ULM closed the first half with a flurry. Marco Morency's rebound dunk with :07 remaining and Elijah Gonzales' 3-pointer from 27-feet away at the buzzer sent the Warhawks to the locker room with an 11-point lead at 34-23.
The Warhawks limited the Ragin' Cajuns to 28-percent field-goal shooting (10-of-36) in the first half, including 2-of-10 from 3-point range.
"Obviously, the start was big for us," Richard said. "I also knew we weren't going to win 90-10. Lafayette missed a lot of shots early, but we were playing really good offense on our end of the floor. We jumped out to a 17-point lead, but they started making some shots late in the first half. Our lead was down to eight (points) when Elijah Gonzales hit the 3-pointer from near midcourt at the buzzer that gave us the momentum heading into halftime."
Harrison's 12-foot step-back jumper from the left baseline gave ULM a 36-23 lead with 19:44 to go. Dou Gueye's traditional 3-point play sparked a 9-0 spurt and the Ragin' Cajuns pulled to within 36-32 Gueye's drive from the right baseline for a layup with 16:26 remaining.
ULM managed to extend its lead to eight points on three separate occasions in the second half. Harrison's 3-pointer from the right wing lifted the Warhawks to a 54-46 advantage with 9:14 left.
The Ragin' Cajuns got a 3 from Jacobi Gordon and a basket from Ced ric Russell to cut their deficit to 54-51 with 8:12 on the clock. Louisiana Lafayette scored its next five points from the freethrow line but went without a field goal (0-for-4) for 4:50.
Josh Nicholas buried a pull-up 3 from the left wing in transition to give ULM a 63-56 advantage with 3:35 remaining.
Louisiana Lafayette closed the margin to three points twice down the stretch – the last time at 66-63 after Wilson hit the second of two free throws with 45 seconds to play.
Gonzales converted 6-of-7 free-throw attempts in the final 37 seconds to ice the game.
"Lafayette opened the second half with a run, and for a minute there, I could kind of see the look in our guys' eyes 'here we go again,'" Richard said. "But to their credit, our guys didn't hang their heads, they kept battling. There was a lot of mental talk in those timeouts in the second half. Over the last few weeks, I told them they would breakthrough sooner or later. Tonight, they responded and executed in the crucial moments.
"During those second-half timeouts, I told them you can't be afraid to fail. We're going to have to score some baskets here down the stretch, so don't be afraid to take a shot or make a play. I kept trying to reassure them that these things aren't given to you. You have to make plays to win the game, and a number of guys stepped up and did just that in the final minutes."
ULM made 45 percent (25-of-55) of its field-goal attempts, including 11-of-26 3-pointers (42 percent). The Ragin' Cajuns finished 24-of-62 from the floor (39 percent), including 5-of-16 (31 percent) from behind the 3-point arc.
"Lafayette shot a high percentage (54 percent) in the second half be cause they were driving the ball to the basket and throwing it inside," Richard said. "We also shot the ball well in the second half, 48 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3. We lost some games because we had prolonged dry spells in the second half. We didn't executive well down the stretch, and it kept us from winning some close games on the road. Tonight, we came through in those situations and found ways to score to maintain the lead."
Louisiana Lafayette held a 40-30 edge in rebound margin and 36-14 in points in the paint.
It marked Harrison's second-straight double-double after his 12-point, 10-rebound performance in the series finale at UT Arlington last Saturday. He became the first Warhawk to record back-to-back double-doubles since Sam McDaniel accomplished the feat in consecutive road games at Coppin State (21 points and 10 rebounds) and VCU (15 and 10) during the 2016-17 season.
Koreem Ozier hit 6-of-12 field-goal attempts, including 3-of-7 3s, for 15 points. With his 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 10:08 left in the second half, Ozier eclipsed the 1,000-point career milestone. He scored 756 points in 54 games at Sacred Heart University before transferring to ULM.
"Koreem Ozier made two big buckets late when the game was really on the line," Richard said. "We called a couple of plays, he played out of them and hit a couple of clutch mid-range shots. That's what good players do in big moments."
Gonzales contributed 12 points, five assists and three steals while Thomas Howell came off the bench to score in double figures for his second-straight game, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-8 field-goal shooting.