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Darrell Walker had the objective written in big, bold, black letters on a dry-erase board.

With an arrow pointed directly at it in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's men's basketball locker room, the board read: "Limit T.O."

Limit turnovers.

UALR committed 13 turnovers in a 73-59 Sun Belt Conference home-opening victory Thursday night against Troy at the Jack Stephens Center. It was UALR's fewest turnovers in five games since Dec. 11, when it gave the ball away 11 times against Miles College, a Division II opponent.

UALR (6-10, 1-2 Sun Belt) is 4-1 when it commits 13 or fewer turnovers.

"Thirteen turnovers and they committed 23," said UALR freshman guard Markquis Nowell, who finished with a team-high 16 points. "That was the game plan."

UALR, which posted 15, 24, 18 and 23 turnovers in four consecutive losses entering Thursday's game, gave the ball away eight times in the first half and just five in a 46-point second half against Troy (8-7, 1-2).

"I want to average 13 turnovers or less," Walker said. "Tonight was a perfect example if you take care of the ball, we've got a great shot to win the game.

Before the victory, UALR's first since a 67-47 blowout of Miles College, Troy senior forward Jordan Varnado was scouted by UALR's coaching staff as the biggest threat to keep UALR from acquiring its first conference win.

Varnado posted 26 points, 11 rebounds and 8 turnovers in 34 minutes against the Trojans, making 9 of 19 shot attempts. He punished UALR's interior defenders early and prompted Walker to initiate a personnel change that would change the outcome.

UALR trailed by as many as nine points in the first half as Varnado began to fill his stat line by scoring 10 of Troy's first 15 points.

In the final 7:38 minutes of the opening half, UALR went on a 15-8 run and sliced Troy's lead to 29-27 at halftime.

Varnado was UALR's only real defensive struggle as it limited Troy to 38.3 percent shooting.

That's when Walker went small and rode four guards -- Nowell, sophomore Jaizec Lottie and juniors Rayjon Tucker and Deondre Burns -- and one true freshman big man, Kamani Johnson, to his first Sun Belt victory.

"Our dilemma is we have [senior forward Alex] Hicks and Varnado, who are probably two of the best big guys at this level. What do you do?" said Troy Coach Phil Cunningham. "Do you take one of them out? It's hard to take one of them out. One style is going to win out. It went back and forth for a long time. Then they got loose on us."

Burns made a three-pointer with 16:35 to go in the second half to make it 37-37. Neither team would score for the next minute until Nowell sank a three-pointer, lifting UALR to a 40-37 lead with 15:32 remaining.

Johnson, one of four true freshman starters Walker deployed for the fourth consecutive game, rattled in two tough layups to hold UALR's lead at five points.

Nowell made another three-pointer with 10:10 remaining and stretched UALR's lead to 49-41 before Johnson muscled in another layup to put UALR ahead by 10 points with less than 10 minutes to go.

UALR held a 15-point lead with 7:32 remaining in the second half after Nowell -- who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and went 4-for-6 on three-pointers -- swished his final three-pointers.

"Those were huge," Cunningham said.

Through most of UALR's second-half outburst, the guard-heavy group hoped limited Troy and forced it to keep either Hicks -- who had eight points -- or Varnado, it's two leading scorers, on the sideline.

It worked.

"When [Burns] is clicking, Rayjon's clicking, I'm clicking and Lottie has his energy, it's hard to stop us," Nowell said. "And not turning the ball over? Great game."

SUN BELT MEN

ARKANSAS STATE 66,

SOUTH ALABAMA 65

Arkansas State University (8-8, 2-1 Sun Belt) held off a late South Alabama (9-7, 2-1) charge to secure the victory at First National bank Arena in Jonesboro.

The Red Wolves led 59-50 with 6:03 remaining, but saw the Jaguars score 10 consecutive points to go ahead 60-59 with 3:55 remaining.

ASU got a Grantham Gillard layup and two Ty Cockfield free throws to take a 63-60 lead. Three more Cockfield free throws made it 66-62, the last coming with three seconds left. A three-pointer by South Alabama's Kory Holden at the buzzer set the final margin.

Cockfield led the Red Wolves with 22 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field and 12 of 15 free throws. Marquis Eaton had 18 and Salif Boudie chipped in 10.

ASU had 17 turnovers to South Alabama's 10, but outscored the Jaguars 16-12 off them.

South Alabama's Rodrick Sikes led all scorers with 24 points on 9-of-20 shooting from the field.

Sports on 01/11/2019

Print Headline: Plan OK for UALR in victory

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