A few familiar faces were missing from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's Southwestern Athletic Conference men's basketball opener and first game since Dec. 18.
The absence of Trey Sampson, Brandon Brown and A.J. Stredic didn't bode well for the Golden Lions as Alabama A&M University outscored them 44-18 in the paint and left H.O. Clemmons Arena with a 70-50 win Monday night.
"We knew coming in we were undersized tonight," UAPB Coach Solomon Bozeman said, his team now 2-2 at home this season. "No excuses. We knew we were going to play five guards, and they just punked us."
Bozeman cited the shooting of Alabama A&M's two big men, 6-foot-7 forward Jalen Johnson (8 for 8) and 6-10 center E.J. Williams (7 for 7). Johnson led all scorers with 18 points and also had a game-high 8 rebounds, and Williams scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half.
Sampson missed his third game in a row. Bozeman said the junior transfer, who ranked second on the Lions in scoring (12.3 points per game) going into Monday, was a recent contact to a covid-19 patient but is expected to return to action at home against Alabama State University on Wednesday. Sampson missed the previous two games due to an unspecified illness.
Brown, known for his double-double efforts this season, is out with covid-19 and doubtful to be available Wednesday, Bozeman said. Stredic had earned starts in Sampson's absence but was in covid-19 protocols, according to a team spokesman. His availability for Wednesday is not known.
Johnson and Williams helped Alabama A&M (2-9, 1-0 SWAC) outrebound UAPB 32-20. The Bulldogs also shot 29 for 46 (63%) from the floor, including 4 for 11 from 3-point range, and made 8 of 9 free throws.
Travonta Doolittle scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting for the Golden Lions (2-12, 0-1). Kylen Milton scored 11 points, making 8 of 10 free throws, and Kshun Stokes added 10 points. Stokes matched his season high from Nov. 26 against the University of the Pacific.
Shawn Williams, the Lions' leading scorer at 13.4 points per game, was held to 5, while senior DeQuan Morris scored only 4. The two combined to shoot 4 for 18 from the floor.
"We've got to be better on the offensive end," Bozeman said. "Fifty points is not enough. We need Shawn Williams to be better. Kylen Milton is better than what he showed, and DeQuan Morris is better than he showed. Those guys have got to be double-figure scorers. If they're not shooting it well or playing well, we're not going to play well. Those guys, we need them to be special, especially when you have Brandon Brown and Trey Sampson out."
Showing how it's done
With a limited number of players over the lengthy holiday break, Bozeman said he and his assistants practiced with those available to give 5-on-5 looks. Bozeman revealed that when asked if the 16-day layoff had an impact on Monday's performance.
"At the end of the day, we've got to be tough and find a way to win this," he said.
UAPB made 16 of 47 (34%) from the floor including 7 of 29 from the arc, and made 11 of 16 free throws.
UAPB was held to a single field goal in the first 10:05 of the game, and trailed by as much as 11-2 before pulling within 26-22 at halftime.
Six minutes into the half, the Bulldogs' lead grew to 41-27, as Williams keyed the run with three straight baskets.
"We thought we could front them and have weak-side help," Bozeman said "At the end of the day, they found a way to pound it inside. That was the biggest difference in the game, how they pounded us inside, and play off some of their non-shooters."
UAPB will host Alabama State on Wednesday, with tipoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m.