Jaizec Lottie dribbled slowly up the court and scanned the play getting set to evolve in front of him.
A game that the University of Arkansas at Little Rock had stayed in for the entire night, but could never quite seem to take control of, now was there for the taking. The Trojans trailed Missouri State, a team picked first in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason coaches poll, by one at 66-65 with the clock ticking under 10 seconds.
As Lottie, a junior guard, moved toward the top of the key, junior forward Ruot Monyyong came out from the baseline and rolled to the right wing. Lottie passed it Monyyong, then with just a few seconds remaining, Monyyong fired up UALR's last hope.
Monyyong's attempt at a go-ahead three-pointer earlier at the three-minute mark had missed. This time, with a season-opening victory fully on the line, Monyyong's shot from deep dropped through the bucket, although his foot was on the three-point line, putting the Trojans up one with 2.3 seconds left.
After a Missouri State timeout, Bears guard Tyrik Dixon, a Bentonville native, was forced to throw up one last desperation heave from halfcourt, but the ball never touched the rim.
The Trojans survived with a 67-66 victory on opening night of the 2019-20 season in front of an announced crowd of 5,002 at the JQH Arena in Springfield, Mo., a riveting start to Year 2 of the Darrell Walker era in Little Rock.
"I think our team grew up a little bit tonight," Walker said in a news release. "It was good to see we didn't flinch when they went on their runs, and we had some young guys step up in big moments. This was a big win for this team, especially on the road against a good team."
Three Trojans finished in double figures on the night. Junior guard and UNLV transfer Ben Coupet Jr. turned in a strong performance in his UALR debut, finishing with a game-high 13 points on 6-of 8-shooting and 8 rebounds in 38 minutes.
Sophomore guard Markquis Nowell finished with 12 points, 8 assists, 2 rebounds and played all 40 minutes. Lottie chipped in 10 points, Monyyong had 9 points and 7 rebounds, and junior guard Alsean Evans had 8 points. Monyyong and Evans also were making their UALR debuts Tuesday after transferring from junior colleges.
UALR (1-0) shot 52% from the floor and had 36 points in the paint, but the Trojans hit 3 of 14 from beyond the arc. The Trojans, who Walker feels will be able to benefit more this season from added size and length, outrebounded Missouri State 32-26.
UALR led for just 1 minute and 59 seconds, compared to Missouri State's 36:11.
UALR held an early 9-7 lead thanks to seven points from Coupet. But Missouri State (0-1) eventually settled into the game and grabbed a 19-13 lead just over five minutes later after a three-pointer by forward Lamont West, who finished with a team-high 12 points for the Bears.
Junior forward Kris Bankston and freshman guard Isaiah Palermo, who each started the game for UALR, found themselves in foul trouble early on and had to sit most of the first half. The two combined for 5 fouls and 14 minutes in the half.
Monyyong's lone three-pointer of the night came with 7:59 to play before halftime that gave the Trojans a 22-21 lead. But UALR wouldn't hold the lead again until the final minute and a half of the game. Missouri State took a 39-33 lead at the half thanks to a wide-open breakaway dunk by forward Tulio Da Silva in the final minute.
The Bears grabbed their largest lead of the night in the opening minute of the second half after a bucket in the paint by Dixon. UALR trailed 41-33, but the Trojans were able to keep pace throughout the final half thanks to timely buckets from, among others, Nowell and Lottie.
Even when Bankston fouled out with 6:27 left in the game after making contact with West on a made three, to which West hit the ensuing free throw to complete a four-point play and put Missouri State ahead 62-56, the Trojans kept staying in it. Lottie followed that sequence up with five straight points to pull UALR within one with 5:07 to play.
Minutes later, with 1:25 left, Evans hit a jumper to put the Trojans up 65-64, their first lead since the 7:59 mark of the first half. After a foul by Monyyong, Dixon hit a pair of free throws on the other end to take the lead back for Missouri State one last time -- before Monyyong's heroics saved UALR in the final seconds.
Sports on 11/06/2019
Print Headline: UALR opens with last-second victory