The University of Arkansas at Little Rock's men's basketball team overcame an early deficit Thursday against Louisiana-Lafayette. It built a solid second-half lead and held it for a long time.
Then the Trojans lost Thursday's game.
Now with one game left to play, the Trojans' season can go no further, regardless of the outcome of the regular-season finale on Saturday.
Louisiana-Lafayette defeated the Trojans 77-72 on Thursday at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock. With No. 10 seed Appalachian State defeating Troy, the Trojans had to win Thursday in order to possibly sneak into the Sun Belt Conference Tournament as the No. 10 seed.
"The year was an up-and-down year," Coach Darrell Walker said. "I knew we would struggle some because we had a young, immature team. That showed a lot during the season, that we were immature and weren't ready to win basketball games."
Walker attributed Thursday's loss to turnovers.
UALR (10-20, 5-12) committed 20 mistakes and Louisiana-Lafayette scored 22 points off them.
"Well, you turn it over 20 times for 22 points, that's the game," Walker said.
On Wednesday, Walker said he reintroduced the Trojans to Louisiana-Lafayette senior forward JaKeenan Gant, the man responsible for scoring 45 points against UALR in the Ragin' Cajuns' 75-61 victory Jan. 5 in Lafayette, La.
On Thursday, Gant was barely on the floor long enough to do any significant damage. With 12:50 remaining in the second half, Gant drew his fifth foul and was forced to watch the game transpire from the bench.
Gant scored five points in 13 total minutes.
"We got off to a good start," said Louisiana-Lafayette Coach Bob Marlin. "Then Gant got in early foul trouble and wasn't able to get 45 like he did in the Cajundome. We just fought through it."
UALR received superb performances from freshman center Nikola Maric and sophomore forward Kris Bankston, both of whom Walker intended to give the ball plenty on offense so Gant was forced to play defense.
Maric and Bankston combined for 37 points on 23 total shot attempts. The Trojans' frontcourt duo helped roll through Louisiana-Lafayette's interior defense for 40 total points in the paint.
The Cajuns went 12 for 30 from beyond the three-point line, scoring 36 of their 77 total points from long range. UALR redshirt junior guard Rayjon Tucker, who had 19 points and made 4 of 6 threes, was the only Trojan to connect on a three-ball in 15 total attempts.
"The big key of the game, they hurt us in the paint," Marlin said. "But then we hurt them at the three-point line. Tucker's the only guy that made threes. He made four. We made 12."
The bad news for UALR was that Louisiana-Lafayette (18-12, 8-9) did not need Gant this time.
Sophomore guard Cedric Russell scored a career-high 34 points, including 21 points in the Cajuns' second-half comeback. Russell scored the Ragin' Cajuns' first 14 points in the second half.
The Trojans finished the first half on a 17-5 run, outscoring Louisiana-Lafayette by 13 points in the final 5:52 minutes to acquire a 39-37 lead at halftime.
Momentum was built and it became UALR's game to lose.
"They made plays," Walker said. "And we didn't."
UALR built its halftime lead into a 63-51 advantage with 8:34 remaining in the second half. From there, the Cajuns went on a 26-9 run in the final 8:02 meaningful minutes of the Trojans' season.
UALR, which was outscored 40-33 in the second half, was also held scoreless for the final 2:10 minutes.
Trailing 74-72 with 1:06 to go, Maric missed his second three-pointer in the final three minutes.
Russell iced the Cajuns' victory with two free throws as 10 seconds remained.
"We had our chances," Walker said. "But look, we'll play one more game, get ready to recruit and get ready to get better for next year."
Sports on 03/08/2019
Print Headline: Postseason hopes end for UALR