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story.lead_photo.caption UALR guard Marko Lukic (10) dribbles past a South Alabama defender on his way to the basket Saturday during the Trojans’ 52-43 loss to the Jaguars at the Jack Stephens Center. More photos are available at arkansasonline.com/112usaatualrmbb/. ( Jeff Gammons)

So much can change so quickly in conference play.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock men's basketball team sat in sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt Conference standings following a sixth consecutive victory Monday night, and the Trojans were on the brink of their best conference start in program history, sitting at 5-0.

But as the week closed Saturday evening, UALR had slipped into a three-way tie for first place, fresh off two losses in three days.

South Alabama, the Sun Belt preseason favorite, muscled its way to a 52-43 victory on Saturday at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock, as the Trojans turned in their worst offensive performance of the season.

UALR (11-7, 5-2 Sun Belt) shot a season-low 34.0% from the field and committed 24 turnovers, the team's second-highest total of the season. The Trojans' 43 points were also a season low.

"When you turn the ball over 24 times, those are 24 attempts you're not getting in the basket," UALR Coach Darrell Walker said. "You could have cut that down to 12 or less, which we would love to get every game. Let's give them [their] due -- they came and they beat us."

The Trojans have figured out quickly just how difficult life is without Markquis Nowell, their 5-7, 155-pound floor general.

The sophomore point guard and the Sun Belt's second-leading scorer sat for a second consecutive game with a hamstring injury, which Nowell suffered late in Monday's home victory over Georgia Southern. It's unclear if Nowell will be ready for UALR's next game at Coastal Carolina on Thursday.

Gallery: Mens Basketball: Southern Alabama at UALR

[Gallery not loading above? Click here for more photos » arkansasonline.com/112usaatualrmbb/]

Walker had said prior to Saturday that he expected opposing teams to play more zone defense so long as Nowell, a dangerous three-point shooter, was off the floor.

South Alabama did just that. The Jaguars (11-7, 4-3) stuck with zone nearly all game while making sure to hit UALR with some full-court pressure.

"They just sunk in and told our guards to shoot it," Walker said. "Like everybody else is going to do."

South Alabama's tough defense was the difference in the closing minutes. Two free throws by sophomore forward Kamani Johnson pulled UALR to within 43-42 with 4:23 remaining. But for the rest of the game, the Trojans continued to succumb to South Alabama's zone, and UALR was forced into multiple questionable shots.

UALR began to lose its footing once junior guard Jaizec Lottie turned the ball over as he drove into the lane in transition with 2:30 to play. South Alabama guard Chad Lott was fouled on the other end and hit two free throws to extend the lead to three. After a missed three-pointer by junior guard Ben Coupet Jr., South Alabama forward Josh Ajayi scored on a layup to go up by five. Then Coupet quickly committed a turnover.

UALR was held to 0-for-6 shooting with 3 turnovers over the closing four minutes, and the Trojans didn't have a field goal for nearly the final six minutes.

"I think our concentration and focus wasn't good enough," UALR freshman guard Marko Lukic said. "They played good defense. They made some tough shots. We beat ourselves."

Lukic, playing in only his second collegiate game after returning from a 16-game NCAA suspension along with sophomore forward Nikola Maric, finished with a game-high 16 points while going 5 of 11 from three-point range.

But with UALR trailing by six with just over a minute left, Lukic missed 2 of 3 free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt. It could have been a one-possession game, but it instead allowed the Jaguars a stress-free final minute.

South Alabama finished shooting 42.2% (19 of 45) and had 32 points in the lane, but it still only managed 17 points off UALR's 24 turnovers. Lott led the Jaguars with 14 points, Ajayi finished with 13 points and 9 rebounds, and forward Trhae Mitchell had 9 and 8.

Junior forward Ruot Monyyong tallied his sixth consecutive double-double for the Trojans with 11 points and 10 rebounds.

He threw down a one-handed slam on a fast break during a 10-0 UALR run late in the first half. That helped the Trojans take a 22-17 lead at halftime, despite trailing 7-0 early on and beginning the first five minutes without scoring.

But substantial stretches without a field goal were a problem for UALR in the second half.

After Monyyong rocked the rim with another dunk with 16:18 to play, putting UALR ahead 29-23, South Alabama went on a 16-3 run over the next eight minutes to take a 39-32 lead. During that run, the Trojans went a stretch of 5:35 without scoring.

Outside of a layup by Lottie and a couple of threes by Lukic, the Trojans' offense didn't have much to give over the final eight minutes.

"I liked what I saw from Marko," Walker said. "He gave us a great lift off the bench. He's going to be a good player for us."

SO. ALA. M FG FT O-R PF A PTS

Mitchell 40 3-11 3-3 1-8 2 2 9

Ajayi 39 4-8 5-6 1-9 3 0 13

Pettway 35 3-5 0-1 0-0 3 1 7

McGee 34 2-5 3-6 0-0 4 2 7

Lott 30 6-11 2-2 1-4 3 0 14

Fox 15 1-4 0-0 0-2 0 1 2

Locure 6 0-1 0-0 0-1 1 0 0

Morris 1 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Team 0-3

Totals 200 19-45 13-18 3-24 16 6 52

PCT. -- FG 42.2, FT 72.2. 3-PT. -- 1-9, 11.1 (Pettway 1-1, Ajayi 0-1, Locure 0-1, Mitchell 0-1, Fox 0-2, McGee 0-3). BL -- 4 (Mitchell 2). TO -- 15 (McGee 4). ST -- 9 (Pettway 6).

UALR M FG FT O-R PF A PTS

Lottie 37 4-8 0-0 1-2 2 6 8

Lukic 35 5-11 1-3 0-4 0 0 16

Johnson 31 0-1 3-4 5-6 5 1 3

Monyyong 29 5-11 1-2 2-10 3 2 11

Coupet 27 1-7 1-2 1-4 4 2 3

Maric 20 1-4 0-0 1-5 2 2 2

Palermo 16 0-4 0-0 0-2 0 1 0

Stulic 5 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Team 0-1

Totals 200 16-47 6-11 10-33 16 14 43

PCT. -- FG 34.0, FT 54.5. 3-PT. -- 5-16, 31.3 (Lukic 5-11, Lottie 0-1, Monyyong 0-1, Stulic 0-1, Coupet 0-2). BL -- 2 (Coupet, Maric). TO -- 21 (Lottie 5, Lukic 5). ST -- 5 (Johnson 2, Lottie 2).

Halftime -- UALR 22, South Alabama 17

Officials -- Steed, Jarman, Pacsi

Attendance -- 2,525 (5,600).

Sports on 01/12/2020

Print Headline: Shooting, miscues doom Trojans

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