Darrell Walker stood near his seat on the bench and shouted directions at his team.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock head coach had just watched his Trojans go up by 15 points with 4:19 to play, but there was still work to be done.
"Keep defending, guys," Walker said. "Keep defending. Keep defending."
It's been Walker's central, prevailing message -- one uttered incessantly by him and his players -- and it becomes even more important on nights like the one Tuesday, when the offense is struggling and his team isn't quite able to pull away.
Despite a slumping second half, UALR still managed to scrap its way to a 67-56 victory over St. Francis Brooklyn at the Jack Stephens Center.
"I knew it was gonna be a grind-it-out game, and it was," Walker said. "We were able to get the win, but we shot ourself in the foot a little bit, too. I told the guys on the board, if you defend ... and take care of the ball, you're gonna have a chance to win, and that was proven tonight."
The Trojans (4-3) held a 52-45 lead with just under seven minutes remaining, but as Walker has continued to preach, UALR kept defending.
St. Francis Brooklyn (2-4) was held to one field goal over the final 7:09 -- a three-pointer by guard Rob Higgins at the 5:02 mark cut UALR's lead to 58-48. Higgins finished with 12 points, while guard Unique McLean led the Terriers with 13 points and 7 rebounds.
Returning to the Jack Stephens Center after back-to-back road losses to No. 16 Memphis and NC State last week, the Trojans began a home slate of three games in five days.
It would have been easy to overlook St. Francis, a member of the Northeast Conference. The Terriers are a largely unknown team, so much so that two referees turned to the courtside media table during warmups and asked where the team was from and what its head coach's name was.
"We never [overlook] no opponent," UALR sophomore point guard Markquis Nowell said. "No matter where they come from, no matter how big they are, we always try to stick to the game plan, and that's playing defense."
Nowell tied his season-high with 28 points, hitting 4 of 8 three-pointers and 12 of 14 from the foul line, while posting 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 6 turnovers.
It was Nowell's first-half burst that helped carry the Trojans to a 36-19 lead with 3:20 remaining before the break.
Nowell had 16 points and went 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the opening half. At one point, Nowell heaved up a three before turning around to run back, unconcerned with watching it go in. It did anyway.
"I was in the zone, and I was confident," said Nowell, who's leading UALR in scoring with 19.6 points per game. "I knew it was going in once it came off my hand. I ain't really have to look at it."
But the Trojans had to watch that 17-point lead -- their largest of the night -- dwindle to 36-27 at the half, thanks to a closing 8-0 run by the Terriers.
UALR and St. Francis Brooklyn traded scores for much of the second half, and the Terriers had it within seven points three separate times. But UALR started to pull away after Higgins' three with 5:02 remaining, and the Trojans opened up a 16-point lead with 2:36 left.
The Terriers were limited to 32% shooting in the second half and shot 35.2% for the game.
After shooting 43.5% in the first half, UALR shot 27.6% over the final 20 minutes. The Trojans finished the night 26 of 36 from the foul line. Junior forward Ruot Monyyong posted a second consecutive double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, and sophomore forward Kamani Johnson added 9 points and 7 boards.
There were times throughout where not having three important pieces certainly showed. UALR is without sophomore forward Nikola Maric, junior forward Kris Bankston and junior guard Alsean Evans.
Maric is serving a 16-game suspension from the NCAA until Jan. 9 for an amateurism violation, while Bankston (back) and Evans (toe) are dealing with injuries. Walker said "it's gonna be a while" before Bankston and Evans are back healthy.
The Trojans have to plug along without them, and that continues tonight against Alcorn State (2-4).
"I told my guys we have to protect home," Walker said. "We have to win these games at home."
Sports on 11/27/2019
Print Headline: UALR 'D' picks it up in victory