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Energetic Trojans snap 7-game slide

by Eli Lederman | February 28, 2021 at 2:54 a.m.

The play began with University of Arkansas at Little Rock junior Nikola Maric lunging two rows into his own bench to grab a rebound, and ended with senior Ben Coupet Jr. finishing through contact.

Coupet's basket with 6:51 remaining was part of a 6:34 stretch when the Trojans outscored Louisiana-Lafayette 21-8 to pull away from the Ragin Cajuns in a 69-59 victory Saturday. The hustle play handed UALR a 53-45 lead and was the defining energetic moment that saw the Trojans snap a seven-game losing streak and earn their first win in February during the regular-season finale at the Jack Stephens Center

"That type of play has been going the other way for the last seven games," UALR Coach Darrell Walker said. "It was good to see it go our way this time."

UALR (11-14, 7-11 Sun Belt) received 17 points off the bench from senior Admir Besovic and freshman Marko Andric, and used a 37-point second half to blow past Louisiana-Lafayette (16-8, 10-7) and avoid its fourth consecutive series sweep.

The Ragin Cajuns were 8 of 33 (24.2%) from the field after halftime, when Maric scored 13 of his game-high 17 points. Coupet finished with 14 points, scoring six of them on three consecutive possessions in the second half.

Senior Ruot Monyyong recorded six points and six rebounds but did not return after exiting with his fourth personal foul at the 10:55 mark of the second half. Besovic scored eight points and pulled down nine rebounds, delivering his strongest performance of the season on his senior day.

Louisiana-Lafayette senior Cedric Russell led the Ragin Cajuns with 13 points. Junior Theo Akwuba scored 10 and grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds.

The win locked UALR into the No. 5 seed from the Sun Belt West Division, slating the Trojans to face East Division No. 4 seed Appalachian State in the first round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on Friday.

"This win was big for us," Maric said. "We were tired of losing games. We have to go into the next one with the same mentality. The same energy. We need to try to win this tournament."

UALR led 27-18 in the first half after Besovic's 19-foot jumper and a fast break lay-in by sophomore Marko Lukic (13 points) before Louisiana-Lafayette went on a 6-0 run powered by baskets from Akwuba and Russell. A Besovic hook shot in the closing minute sent the Trojans to the locker room up 32-30.

The Trojans shot 42.6% from the field and turned 11 Louisiana-Lafayette turnovers into 15 points. UALR committed only 11 turnovers of its own. The Trojans also had six blocks and a 32-29 advantage on the defensive boards.

"There was great energy," Walker said. "I thought the guys wanted to win. Our defense enabled us to get out on the fast break and got us open looks. We have to create more open looks. We did that tonight."

Ragin Cajuns freshman Ty Harper tied the game on a pair of free throws with 13:09 remaining in the game before UALR unleashed the 21-8 run that put it up 61-48.

With the game tied 40-40, Coupet opened the surge with two made free throws, then scored on the Trojans' next two possessions to put them ahead. Maric followed with five points in a row, and free throws from Coupet and Andric put the Trojans ahead 13 with 4:48 to play.

Coupet scored all 10 of his second-half points during the 6:34 run, helping propel UALR to its first win since Jan. 30.

"This was my last game in the Jack [Stephens Center]," Coupet said. "I love playing in this gym. I knew my team needed me to score in the game, so I did all I could."

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