CONWAY -- If the University of Arkansas at Little Rock men's basketball team is going to engineer a turnaround this season, it will have to start with sophomore point guard Markquis Nowell and the Trojans' promising offseason acquisition of UNLV junior transfer Ben Coupet Jr.
That could be seen late in the second half against the University of Central Arkansas on Sunday afternoon at the Farris Center. A game up for grabs with under nine minutes remaining and UALR leading 46-44 quickly turned into a Trojans' rout, with Nowell and Coupet leading the onslaught.
The backcourt duo's hot shooting sparked a 26-5 run that gave UALR a 23-point lead with 2:25 left, a sequence that propelled the Trojans to a 76-56 victory over the Bears in the Governor's I-40 Showdown.
During that all-important run, Coupet -- who was 0 for 6 with 2 turnovers in the first half -- scored 11 of his 15 points, including knocking down a trio of three-pointers, Nowell had 10 of his game-high 25 points, and the Trojans clamped down on defense.
"We were waiting for Ben to do something, because the first half he was horrible," UALR Coach Darrell Walker said. "I told him he was horrible, and we needed something out of him. He made some shots, and Markquis got hot. I just thought overall, defensively, I thought we were really good. I thought we were scrappy. We rebounded the basketball. We made everything tough."
Said Coupet: "I had to really get my feet wet that first half. I really just got it going in the second half."
Junior forward Ruot Monyyong posted a double-double with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while going 7 of 10 from the free-throw line, junior guard Jaizec Lottie added 10 points and 5 rebounds, and sophomore forward Kamani Johnson had 7 points to help bolster UALR (3-1). Johnson started in place of junior forward Kris Bankston, who, along with junior guard Alsean Evans, sat out Sunday because of injuries.
UCA, which saw junior point guard DeAndre Jones exit in the first half with a calf injury, was led by Eddy Kayouloud's 14 points, although the sophomore forward fouled out with 7:10 left in the game. Junior guard Rylan Bergersen, who also dealt with foul trouble in the first half, had 11 points, and junior center Hayden Koval added 10 points, 7 boards and 4 blocked shots.
UALR outscored UCA (1-4) 46-30 in the second half, a period that proved far more entertaining than the sloppiness of the opening 20 minutes, when both teams appeared incapable of creating any offense other than at the free-throw line.
In the first half, the Trojans shot 29% from the floor and were 1-for-9 from beyond the arc, to go along with 7 turnovers and 16 personal fouls. Eleven of UALR's 30 points came from the foul line.
The Bears, who finished the game 13 of 51 from the floor, had 5 field goals in the first half, shot 18.5%, turned it over 9 times and committed 10 fouls. Hitting 13 of 16 free throws was the only thing keeping UCA in the game.
UALR didn't have a field goal until the 14:14 mark when Lottie drilled a jumper. At that point, UCA led 4-3. The Trojans opened up a 22-11 lead with 6:19 left, and they led 30-20 with 2:22 remaining before the break, as the Bears had just three field goals at that point.
But Koval knocked down a three-pointer from the top of the key, freshman guard Masai Olowokere scored on a layup in transition, and Koval hit a free throw in the final minute to cut UCA's deficit at the half to 30-26.
The difference in the second half, however, was the Trojans were able to wake up down the stretch and hit shots consistently, while the Bears continued to struggle. UALR shot 56.7% over the final 20 minutes, while UCA shot 33.3%.
"I didn't feel like we did a very good job of executing our offense at all, especially second half," UCA Coach Russ Pennell said. "We got very impatient, took questionable shots. I got to credit Little Rock's defense for some of that, but we just right now are not trusting what we're doing enough to get us the tough buckets."
Central Arkansas forward SK Shittu shoots over UALR center Admir Besovic during the Bears’ 76-56 loss to the Trojans on Sunday at the Farris Center in Conway.
Sports on 11/18/2019
Print Headline: Trojans catch fire with 2nd-half run