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Men's Basketball: Cajuns honoring historic 1992 team

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, Jan. 7, 2016

To fully appreciate the huge accomplishment of the 1991-92 UL Ragin’ Cajuns men’s basketball team, it’s important to understand the full context in which it was achieved.

When coach Marty Fletcher’s club defeated No. 4 Oklahoma 87-83 in an NCAA West Regional contest on March 20, 1992, it was the program’s first NCAA Tournament win since the Cajuns beat Houston 102-89 on March 10, 1973.

And no Cajun basketball team has done it since then.

Many members of that special team gathered Friday evening for a team reunion, and the university will be honoring the team at halftime of Saturday’s Sun Belt men’s game against ULM at the Cajundome.

“I can’t wait to see those guys,” said Byron Starks, who was a sophomore on that 1992 squad and headed the local organizing committee for this weekend’s activities.

“I can’t believe it’s been 25 years. It was definitely a special group.”

It was UL’s first season in the Sun Belt Conference, and there was plenty of frustration surrounding the program at the time.

It was Fletcher’s sixth season at the helm. Going into the season, the Cajuns were coming off three straight winning seasons, but postseason play continued to elude them.

In short, the program in many ways was haunted by the success and style of play of Tim Floyd’s UNO program. Fletcher believed in recruiting shooters — offensive-minded prospects for an upbeat exciting game.

His staff of Butch Pierre, John Lyles and Barry Scheuermann did just that. Some of the program’s all-time great offensive players Kevin Brooks, Sydney Grider and Aaron Mitchell had just departed the program.

A sophomore trio of Starks, Michael Allen and Tony Moore were taking over to go along with senior leaders in point guard Eric Mouton and elite rebounder Marcus Stokes, as well as junior mismatch-in-waiting Todd Hill.

Also joining the crew for this season was junior college big man Carroll Boudreaux from Cecilia.

The team also featured Cedric Mackyeon, who was a specialist at defending, dunking and blocking shots.

This wasn’t an era that protected the offensive player like the rules do in today’s college basketball. One can only imagine how many games UL would have won in that era and how many points the stars would have scored had they played under the current NCAA rules that don’t allow as much hand-checking, pushing and holding as Floyd’s UNO teams regularly utilized to flourish.

“Oh my goodness, wow, definitely,” Stokes laughed. “I finished with a little more than 1,000 points (1,066). I’m sure I would have gotten to about 1,200 and a guy like Sydney probably might have had over 3,000.”

Stokes is one of five players on that 1992 team that’s currently coaching high school ball. In fact, Stokes coached the Fayette Ware High team in Somerville, Tennessee, to the school’s first-ever state semifinal appearance last season.

Unfortunately, he's got "a big game" Friday and won't be able to attend the weekend's festivities.

“It’s killing me that I can’t be there this weekend,” Stokes said. “Man, I wish I could be there to visit with all of those guys.

“I think the thing that allowed that team to be so  successful was how close we were. The other teams were close too, but the guys on this team did everything together. We were always around each other on and off the court.”

As much scoring potential as Fletcher possessed, though, it never seemed to matter against UNO. In 1989, the Cajuns went 17-12, only to be eliminated by UNO in the second round of the American South Tournament.

In 1990, UL went 20-9, including a road win over Kentucky, but again was ousted in the second round of the American South Tournament by UNO. Again in 1991, the Cajuns finished 21-10, only to be eliminated in the second round of the ASC tourney by the Privateers.

In 1992, guess who the first team the Cajuns met in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament in Biloxi? You guess it. Only this time, UL escaped with a 73-69 overtime win over UNO.

Then after slipping past UALR 64-61, the No. 2-seeded Cajuns beat old rival and top-seeded Louisiana Tech 75-71 in the finals to earn the school’s first NCAA trip since 1983. UL and Tech finished the regular season tied for first at 12-4.

Hill led the Cajuns in scoring in all three games and was named the tournament’s MVP.

For the season, Hill was also the leading scorer at 14.1 points a game, but it was extremely balanced after him. Five guys averaged between Boudreaux’s 9.1 points to Starks and Allen at 11.8 points a game.

By the stretch drive, Allen and Moore were reserves. That’s two 1,000-point career scorers coming off the bench.

And of course that doesn’t even include the floor leader in Mouton, who averaged just 5.6 points a game with a team-high 164 assists and 59 steals.

“Mouton was a one-man fast break,” Starks said.

In Boudreaux’s mind, the team’s success revolved around the St. Thomas More product.

“Eric Mouton was the leader of the team,” Boudreaux said. “Eric made it all happen. We were a better team with Eric on the floor. He made everybody around him better. He wasn’t worried about scoring. Everybody got the ball.

“He was the core of the team. He was so tough. He may have looked like a little school kid, but he would tear your heart out.”

The team's roster included a few other local products in St. Martinville Tyrone Jones, who hit the game-winning basket in that win over Kentucky, and Berwick's Bobby Thigpen, whose brainstorm it was that ignited this weekend's gatherings. Thigpen joins Starks, Mouton, Allen and Stokes as the head coaching products from this squad.

The team that started out the season 1-5 — with that one win being a 96-87 win over Ole Miss — had won eight of its final nine and drew No. 4 Oklahoma in the opening round of the NCAA West Regional in Tempe, Arizona.

The Sooners couldn’t have been very happy with the draw, considering the Cajuns beat OU in Norman 103-101 in a regular-season game the season before.

Oklahoma didn’t fare any better this time around. The Cajuns led 45-43 at the half and won by four. Starks showed off his incredible mid-range shooting ability to the country with 21 points, followed by Moore with 15, Allen with 13 and Mackyeon with 10, along with nine rebounds. Boudreaux had eight points and three boards.

Mouton contributed four points and five assists while taking just one shot from the field. He iced the win with four free throws down the stretch.

A more fitting ending for this team would have been to get all the way to the Sweet 16 or Elite 8, but instead the Cajuns’ 41-38 halftime lead resulted in an 81-73 loss to New Mexico State. The Aggies made 27 of 35 free throws in the game, compared to just two of five for the Cajuns.
 
“I still dream about that game sometimes,” Boudreaux said. “There’s no way that team should have beaten us, no way. And I’m telling you, we would have beaten UCLA (in Sweet 16). That 92 team was that talented.”

Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.
Click www.athleticnetwork.net  > Photo Gallery (left side) > Men's Basketball > 1992 - for the photo gallery of the team.