The season opener for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock men was anything but easy Wednesday afternoon, but the Trojans found a way to get the job done.
UALR scored 12 of the game's final 19 points to pull away and beat Prairie View A&M 71-66 in the Wade Houston Tipoff Classic at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky.
The Trojans (1-0) overcame a three-point halftime deficit and a rare off shooting effort from the field from first-team preseason All-Sun Belt Conference guard Markquis Nowell to win their first game of a season for the seventh time in the past nine years.
Nowell, a 5-7 junior, made just 3 of 17 shots but hit 9 of 9 free throws, including four in a row over the final 2:45, to finish with 17 points. He also added 6 steals, 5 assists and 5 rebounds for the Trojans, who will play their second game of the event at 6 p.m. Friday against North Carolina-Greensboro. Forward Nikola Maric also had 17 points with nine rebounds, while forward Ruot Monyyong, the conference's preseason player of the year, had 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Guard Marko Lukic also had a productive outing with 11 points and a pair of steals off the bench for UALR, which shot 22 of 51 (43.1%) for the game but only 10 of 25 (40%) in the first half. The Trojans hit 23 of 29 (79.3%) free throws compared to just 4 of 4 for the Panthers, enjoyed a 35-26 advantage on the boards and scored 33 points off 24 turnovers.
UALR, though, still had a tough time shaking itself free from Prairie View A&M.
The Panthers (0-1) shot 60.8% (14 of 23) in the first half and led 32-29 at halftime despite allowing the Trojans to score the first seven points of the game. Prairie View A&M managed to push its lead to 38-33 at the 17-minute mark of the second half on a layup from guard Faite Williams before UALR scurried back.
The Trojans grabbed a 55-48 lead with 6:38 to go on two free throws by Nowell, but the Panthers used an 11-4 spurt to eventually tie the game at 59-59 on a basket inside by guard Jawaun Daniels with 4:03 remaining.
However, two free throws by Maric started UALR's closing rally, with the Trojans going 8 of 8 from the foul line during that stretch. Prairie View A&M hit two baskets over those final minutes, including one with just eight seconds left.
Williams finished with 18 points and Daniels tossed in 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Panthers, who were 27-of-55 shooting (49.1%). Guard D'Rell Roberts ended with 11 points.
NO. 4 BAYLOR 82,
CENTRAL ARKANSAS 37
Forward NaLyssa Smith scored 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds as No. 4 Baylor opened the season with a victory over the University of Central Arkansas at the Ferrell Center in Waco, Texas.
Baylor (1-0) led 34-20 at the half and outscored UCA 27-8 in the third quarter and 48-17 in the second half.
Redshirt freshman Jalisa Outlaw led UCA (0-1) with 9 points, going 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Senior Briana Trigg pulled down a team-high eight rebounds for UCA. Junior Lucy Ibeh came up with a game-high five steals for the Sugar Bears.
Baylor led 20-6 after one quarter.
UCA struggled from the floor, hitting only 13 of 66 shots, including a 2 of 21 effort on three-pointers. The visitors were outrebounded 60-37.
Smith was 7 of 22 from the floor, but she hit 13 of 15 free throws. She also blocked four shots and handed out two assists. Caitlin Bickle added 14 points for Baylor.