Battle of No. 1 vs. No. 2

Colin Ritsick

The top two teams in the Sun Belt play for the No. 1 spot tonight when Georgia Southern hosts the defending conference champions, Louisiana-Lafayette, at 7:30 p.m. in Hanner Fieldhouse.

“They are one of the most talented offensive teams in the country. They score from all five positions and have a future NBA player.” head coach Mark Byington said.

The Ragin’ Cajuns (10-5, 4-0 SBC) score 82.6 points per game, 10th-most in the nation. They are a great transition team and try to keep defenses off guard by playing fast. Byington attributed the Ragin’ Cajuns balance on offense as one of their biggest weapons.

“They have multiple guys that can score and have big nights. They are tough to guard,” Byington said.

ULL has four players that average in the double digits in scoring. Leading the way is junior forward Shawn Long, the NBA prospect Byington spoke of.

Long, is well, long. He is 6-foot-9-inches, 245 pounds and polished on all sides of the ball. He puts up 15.4 points a night and pulls down 9.0 rebounds per game. Long is one of only two players in the country to average a double-double each of the last two seasons.

“There’s going to be a lot of different guys in a lot of different defenses for him. So it’s not him vs. Trent (Wiedeman) by any means,” Byington said.

Defense will be the difference maker in this game – for both teams.

The Eagles (10-3, 3-1 SBC) play stout defense and only allow 60 points per game. Their length and cohesiveness put them near the top in the conference for defense. There is no stopping the Cajuns offense, but if GSU can slow it down they have a good chance of winning this ballgame.

ULL’s defense is their weak spot. They give up a lot of points, over 70 per game, and rely on athleticism to get the job done.

Because ULL doesn’t waste many opportunities on offense (they shoot nearly 50 percent from the field), every single possession will be important for the Eagles. The onus will be on Georgia Southern’s guards to keep the ball safe and set up smart shots.

Senior guard Jelani Hewitt needs to play well for GSU to win this game. Hewitt scores 20.2 points per game and has improved his three-point shooting from last year, but he needs to do more than just score tonight.

“Jelani is tremendous and sometimes his numbers don’t always show what he’s doing in the game. He’s willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes for the team to win,” Byington said.

GSU has won six of its last seven with the only loss coming by one point at Texas-Arlington.

Some of ULL’s offensive numbers got a significant boost after two 115-point outings against a Division III and a NAIA opponent. But they have won their first four Sun Belt games including a good win over a talented Georgia State team last Thursday.

All five of Lafayette’s losses have been away from the CajunDome, where they score 94.4 points per game. But playing on the road the Ragin’ Cajuns only score 72.3 points and have a 2-4 record. Their other loss was on a neutral site.

Follow @GeorgeAnneSport for live updates of tonight’s game.