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Wolves, Trojans on skids

By Troy Schulte

This article was published February 17, 2017 at 2:14 a.m.

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Arkansas State coach Grant McCasland

Arkansas State isn't on top of the Sun Belt Conference standings anymore, thanks to losses last week at Texas State and Texas-Arlington, but the Red Wolves have been in this position before.

Just over a month ago, ASU Coach Grant McCasland took his team to the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock having lost consecutive Sun Belt games. McCasland wasn't too pleased with how his team had been playing, and it sputtered for about 30 minutes before rallying for a 77-72 victory in front of 5,161 fans.

The comeback prevented a three-game losing streak and commenced a seven-game winning streak, which put ASU among the Sun Belt leaders.

"It was definitely a pivotal game looking back," McCasland said. "We weren't playing well going into that game. Then, in an adverse situation, we came together."

That spurt helped the Red Wolves join the Sun Belt pack, and McCasland hopes tonight's game against UALR at 7:30 tonight at the Convocation Center will help get them over the hump.

Just five regular-season games remain, and ASU (18-8, 9-4 Sun Belt) is among six teams within 1½ games of first place. Texas-Arlington, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Texas State and Coastal Carolina also have realistic chances of winning the regular-season title, and four of those teams likely will receive byes at next month's tournament.

"I think there's a resolve in our locker room right now," McCasland said. "There's a healthy respect for how hard it is to win in our league. And that's the sense I get. Knowing we had an opportunity to separate ourselves [last week] and didn't take advantage of it."

The focus of ASU's opponent has little to do with the league leaders. UALR (13-13, 4-9) has lost two in a row, six of its past seven games and has yet to find any type of rhythm in a season marked by injuries and inconsistent play.

Coach Wes Flanigan said he's encouraged by the Trojans' first performance against the Red Wolves on Jan. 14 in Little Rock, when they led 43-31 at halftime and 68-64 with five minutes left before losing 77-72.

"But, I think we've played well against a lot of teams," Flanigan said. "And for some reason, we p****d away leads or we've played really bad for a stretch. I think the main thing for us is just figuring out what we need to do to stop going through those bad stretches."

The Trojans' most recent rough stretch came Monday night at Texas-Arlington. UALR led the league leaders 45-41 more than six minutes into the second half, but Texas-Arlington's Faith Pope made a wild jumper while being fouled and converted the free throw to kick-start a 16-1 run in a 71-55 victory.

Flanigan played only eight players more than two minutes Monday, and he said that rotation likely is what he'll stick with. He said changes to the starting lineup aren't likely, unless it involves moving senior Lis Shoshi back among the starters while he's recovering from a toe injury.

Flanigan is confident the Trojans have a push left in them.

"I'll never give up on these guys," he said. "I keep asking our guys, 'When is our run going to start?' I feel like something good is going to happen for this team at some point. Until that happens, or until this season is over, that's the way I've got to look at it."

McCasland said the return of Shoshi for UALR adds another element to today's game. Shoshi missed the first meeting, but he has played in the past four.

"They're improving, and they're a team that's going to get better with him playing more minutes," McCasland said. "They haven't reached their full potential because of that specific situation. They're a better team than probably what their record is."

Sports on 02/17/2017

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