Darrell Walker is the first to admit he's old school and businesslike.
But even the University of Arkansas at Little Rock men's basketball head coach couldn't contain his excitement late Tuesday night after his Trojans downed Missouri State, the preseason favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference, on the road thanks to a game-winning jumper by junior forward Ruot Monyyong in the final seconds.
At a glance
UALR MEN AT ILLINOIS STATE
WHEN 3 p.m. Central on Sunday
WHERE Redbird Arena, Normal, Ill.
RADIO KKPT-FM, 94.1, in Little Rock
SERIES Series tied 1-1
LAST MEETING Illinois State won 72-65 on Dec. 20, 2011, in Normal, Ill.
COACHES UALR: Darrell Walker (11-21 in second season at UALR, 57-39 in four seasons overall); Illinois State: Dan Muller (140-96 in eight seasons at Illinois State and overall)
The team's Twitter account posted a video after the game of the celebration that ensued inside the visitors' locker room. An elated Walker raised his arms and danced in front of his team before leaping into the arms of sophomore forward Kamani Johnson.
"I was just having some fun with my guys because I'm a pretty hard, old-school coach, and my practices [are] all business," Walker said. "[It was] just to let them know I'm human, and they know I'm human. I just went in and was happy for those guys and jumped up and celebrated with them."
UALR's 67-66 victory was a thunderous start for a program that found itself on the wrong side of many games last season like the one Tuesday night.
UALR went 10-21 and finished tied for last in the Sun Belt at 5-13 in Walker's first year as head coach. The Trojans were 2-9 in games decided by eight points or less. This year, UALR was picked to finish 11th out of 12 teams in the preseason coaches poll.
Tuesday night was just one game, but Walker -- who's been adamant that his roster has more pieces than it did last season -- saw it as a significant moment for his program's development.
"It was good, especially for the guys that had been with me last year. It was really big for those guys because there's a lot of games that we had a chance to win last year that just didn't go our way and just didn't get it done," Walker said. "For these guys to show how tough they were on the road, how mentally tough they were -- it was in a tough environment, too, which I'm glad it was -- and [they] never gave up. We took care of the basketball, we defended ... we did all the things that we've been working on, and I was glad to see that."
Junior guard and UNLV transfer Ben Coupet Jr. didn't disappoint in his UALR debut, finishing with a career-high 13 points and eight rebounds.
Johnson, Monyyong, sophomore guard Markquis Nowell, junior guard Alsean Evans -- who Walker said played Tuesday with a bruised toe -- and junior guard Jaizec Lottie all played key roles, too.
"Overall, I liked what I saw from my team," Walker said. "It's not too much bad I can take away from it."
UALR still is playing without sophomore forward Nikola Maric, who's allowed to practice but can't participate in games as the team awaits a decision from the NCAA on how long he'll have to sit out after he was implicated in an amateurism infraction.
A team spokesman said a decision from the NCAA should come soon, and there's hope Maric could return some time during the Sun Belt Conference slate.
"We're still trying to figure that one out ... but we're gonna miss him," Walker said. "I hate that for him, because he is really a big part of our basketball team. When he's out there, he takes us to another level as a team."
The Trojans turn their attention to another road game against a Missouri Valley Conference team Sunday when they travel to Normal, Ill., to face Illinois State (1-0). Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. Central. UALR's home opener is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against Southwest Baptist.
"I think we match up pretty evenly with [Illinois State]," Walker said. "They got nice wing players, and we have nice wing players. I think it's an evenly matched game, except that's a tough place to play [at] Illinois State, just like Missouri State. All those schools in the Valley, they draw well."
Sports on 11/09/2019
Print Headline: Footloose Walker savors UALR victory