A victory didn't seem achievable hours before it happened.
Without a bench deep enough to provide breaks, without two starting guards and without much room for error, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's chance of upsetting Sun Belt Conference-leading Texas-Arlington seemed real slim.
Yet, somehow, in a defensive slugfest that created mundane offense at times, the Trojans manufactured their most significant victory of the season, 56-52, Thursday at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
"This was a big win for us," said UALR Coach Darrell Walker. "That's the number one team in the league. I told my guys that we're a pretty good basketball team ourselves. That showed tonight."Gallery: Daily Photos 02.14.2019
None of Texas-Arlington's starters stood taller than 6-5. Shooting 39.9 percent from the field and 28.2 percent from the three-point line, both the worst in the Sun Belt Conference, the Mavericks aren't glamorous on paper.
The way to defeat the Mavericks (12-13, 8-4 Sun Belt) is to pound the ball inside offensively and force them to shoot from the outside.
UALR (10-15, 5-7) scored 28 points in the paint and received 21 combined points from reserve sophomore forward Kris Bankston and freshman starting center Nikola Maric. The Mavericks went 6 for 25 from beyond the three-point line and shot 19 for 59 (32.2 percent) from the field.
Done and done.
"Man, I don't say much, I'm not a big rah-rah guy, but those guys followed the game plan to the T," Walker said.
The Trojans held a lead for 9:59 total minutes of Saturday's victory, their third in a row and longest winning streak since a five-game effort in the 2016-17 season.
Thursday's lead changed six total times and the score was tied on five different occasions. In the first half, Texas-Arlington had its way with the Trojans.
The Mavericks were in control for more than 18 minutes of the half, leading by as many as nine points with 11:46 remaining.
In the final 11:46, the Trojans went on an 18-8 run and stole a 26-25 lead at halftime on a reverse dunk from Bankston at the buzzer.
To make things more interesting, the Trojans' two starting guards, redshirt juniors Rayjon Tucker and Deondre Burns, were 0 for 8 combined from the field and had 1 point after 20 minutes.
Usual starting guards freshman Markquis Nowell (ankle) and sophomore Jaizec Lottie (hand) were each sidelined with injuries. The Trojans used eight total players against the Sun Belt's best, including one minute from sophomore forward Damir Hadzic, who was used only when foul trouble was a minor issue in the first half.
UALR began the second half on a quick 9-3 run to give itself some temporary separation before Texas-Arlington came barrelling back.
A pair of free throws from Tucker with 13:50 remaining in the second pushed UALR's lead to 10 points, its largest of the game. The Mavericks responded with a 10-0 run.
Neither team led by more than three points until the end, when UALR's victory became clinched in a way tough to script.
Senior forward Dani Koljanin, usually an infrequently used reserve, made a streaking layup with 43 seconds remaining to give the Trojans a 54-52 lead. A long offensive possession from Texas-Arlington ended with a rushed miss from junior guard Edric Dennis and seven seconds on the clock after a UALR rebound.
Burns, an unlikely hero who made his first start of the season after being purposefully assigned by Walker as UALR's primary weapon off the bench all season, connected on two free throws with 7.2 seconds to make it a four-point, two-possession game.
"Game's over," Burns said.
TEXAS STATE 84, ARKANSAS STATE 74
Ty Cockfield scored 39 points on 13-of-24 shooting from the floor, including four three-pointers, but it wasn’t enough as Arkansas State University fell to Texas State at First National Bank Arena in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves (10-15, 4-8 Sun Belt) built a sizeable lead in the first half, getting as high as 16 points after Tristin Walley hit a layup with 11:59 remaining gave ASU a 25-9 lead. The Bobcats (20-5, 9-3) chipped away, but a second-chance layup by Salif Boudie gave the Red Wolves a 40-33 lead with 1:56 left in the first half. Texas State finished the half on a 7-0 run, tying the game at 40-40 after Alex Peacock hit one of two free throws to end the half. The game was tied twice more in the first five minutes of the second half before Texas State took control with a 6-0 run near the midway point of the half. Walley hit two free throws to cut Texas State’s lead to 53-49 with 11:40 left before the run began, and by the time it ended, the Bobcats led 59-49 after Jaylen Snead’s layup with 8:50 remaining.
Nijal Pearson led Texas State with 21 points, while Alonzo Sule scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Jaylen Shead poured in 17 points for the Bobcats, including nine from the free-throw line.
SUN BELT WOMEN
UALR 62, TEXAS-ARLINGTON 61
Ronjanae DeGray hit two free throws with 12 seconds left to give the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (15-8, 11-1 Sun Belt) a victory over Texas-Arlington (18-6, 10-3) at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas.
Tori Lasker hit a three-pointer with 4:49 left to tie the game at 58-58, but the Mavericks countered with a three-pointer from Cierra Johnson to take a 61-58 lead with 2:53 remaining. Kyra Collier’s jumper cut the lead to 61-60 with 2:37 left. Johnson missed a jumper on the next possession and an offensive foul by Collier gave the ball back to the Mavericks, but they didn’t take advantage as Aysia Evans turned the ball back over on an offensive foul in the backcourt. Lasker turned the ball over on a steal by Terryn Milton, which led to a missed three-pointer by Johnson, but Texas-Arlington got the rebound. The Mavericks couldn’t do anything with the ball, though, and turned the ball over on a shot clock violation.
After the Trojans called time out, Lasker missed a three-pointer from the left side, but Ronjanae DeGray got the offensive rebound and was fouled by Johnson on the follow to set up the game-winning free throws.
DeGray led UALR with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor to go with 10 rebounds. Lasker and Collier were right behind with 16 points each. Johnson led Texas-Arlington with 18 points and Evans added 11.
TEXAS STATE 68, ARKANSAS STATE 54
Arkansas State University (9-14, 4-8 Sun Belt) ran out to a 7-2 lead in the game’s first four minutes Thursday, but that’s the only lead it would have as the Red Wolves fell to Texas State (10-14, 5-7) at Strahan Arena in San Marcos, Texas.
ASU built its early lead on jumpers by Peyton Martin and Trinitee Jackson, and a three-pointer from Jordan Elder. Toshua Leavitt hit a three-pointer with 2:49 left in the first quarter to give the Bobcats their first lead at 9-8, and after Martin hit two free throws to give the Red Wolves a 10-9 lead, Texas State closed the quarter on a 6-0 run to take a 15-10 advantage.
Jireh Washington made a layup with 6:46 left in the first half to tie the game at 17-17, but Texas State got a jumper and a three-pointer from Brooke Holle to take a 22-17 lead with 5:26 remaining. ASU worked the deficit to one point twice in the second quarter but trailed 28-26 at halftime.
Martin made one of two free throws with 7:44 left in the third quarter, cutting the Texas State lead to 32-29, when the Bobcats went on a 7-0 run over the next 2:42 to take control of the game. Akasha Westbrook made a layup with 5:02 remaining to stop the run, trimming the lead to 39-31. Bailey Holle gave Texas State its first lead of 10 or more points with a layup at the 2:40 mark in the third quarter for a 44-33 lead, which grew to 51-36 at the end of the third quarter. The Bobcats led by 17 points three times in the fourth quarter.
Martin led Arkansas State with 15 points on 6-of-16 shooting from the floor. Brooke Holle led Texas State with 21 points, while Da’Nasia Hood had 14, and Leavitt and Jayla Johnson added 12 each.
UALR junior guard Rayjon Tucker (left) puts up a shot under the basket during the Trojans’ victory over Texas-Arlington on Thursday night in Little Rock. The Trojans outscored the Mavericks 6-0 over the final 1:12 to earn the victory. See more photos at arkansasonline.com/galleries.
UALR guards Deondre Burns (left) and Rayjon Tucker celebrate Thursday after defeating Texas-Arlington 56-52 at the Jack Stephens Center.
Sports on 02/15/2019
Print Headline: Chopped down: Trojans knock off Sun Belt leaders