Down by 10 points in the first half, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff was never out of Wednesday's game against Alabama State University.
Now, the Golden Lions are doing very well in the Southwestern Athletic Conference race, albeit two games in.
UAPB rebounded from an 8-point deficit with 10:37 remaining and got 22 points from Shawn Williams to hold off the Hornets 70-68 at H.O. Clemmons Arena and avoid a 0-2 start in the conference.
Williams made 7 of 7 free throws and hit 3 of 9 3-pointers in helping the Lions (3-12, 1-1) win for the second time in three games and first time since Dec. 18, when they routed Ecclesia College.
"It shows a lot of growth," the senior transfer guard said after the Lions won their closest game of the season. "Practice, working hard, and we finally put it on the court and got that late-game dub ['W' for win]."
UAPB avoided letting the game slip away in the final minute. E.J. Clark made a 3-pointer to pull the Hornets (2-12, 1-1) within 70-68 with 51 seconds to go.
Clark stole the ball with 29 seconds left to give Alabama State a final opportunity. Isaiah Range's baseline jumper did not fall, and the Hornets could not score on two putback attempts just before the buzzer sounded.
"That's what we tell the guys, play to the end," Lions Coach Solomon Bozeman said after his first career conference victory. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight, so we stayed on them about finishing the game and playing defense all 40 minutes."
The Lions shot 22 for 54 (40.7%) from the floor, including 8 for 22 from 3-point range, and made 18 of 20 free throws. The Hornets were 27 for 55 (49.1%) from the floor, 7 for 19 from the arc, and 7 for 14 at the foul line.
"We know we've got scorers," Williams said. "We've got plenty of scorers. We've just got to get stops."
Brahm Harris had 11 points, and DeQuan Morris scored 10 for the Lions, who trailed 35-34 at halftime.
Trey Sampson scored 8 points in his first start following a three-game absence. The junior transfer from Oklahoma's Northeastern State University was a contact to a covid-19 patient, according to Bozeman, and had missed the other two games because of an unspecified illness.
Brandon Brown (covid-19) and A.J. Stredic (covid-19 protocol) missed their second-straight game.
Jordan O'Neal finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds for Alabama State. D.J. Jackson and Jayme Mitchell each had 11 points.
Alabama State Coach Mo Williams, a 2009 NBA All-Star and 2016 NBA champion with the Cleveland Cavaliers, missed the game becasue of the birth of his seventh child, according to a team spokesperson. Williams missed last year's game in Pine Bluff because of covid-19.
Alabama State 54, UAPB 40
A jump-ball tie-up led to a bench-clearing scuffle, earning UAPB (4-8, 0-2 SWAC) multiple ejections and forcing the game to end with 3:55 left in the fourth quarter.
UAPB's Maya Peat and Alabama State's Hannah White were given technical fouls after the tie-up, and the entire Lady Lions bench raced over to the altercation at Alabama State's bench. Alabama State assistant coach Courtney Jackson was ejected, as well as all of the Lady Lions reserves.
UAPB never led and was down 36-20 at halftime. The Lady Lions made 10 of 50 shots (20%) from the floor, including 3 of 16 from 3-point range, and made 17 of 24 free throws.
Tyesha Rudolph had 15 points and Ayana Emmanuel had 12 for the Lady Hornets (3-8, 1-0), who out-rebounded the Lady Lions 49-34. The Lady Hornets also shot 20 of 57 (35.1%), including 6 of 18 from 3-point range, and made 8 of 16 free throws.
Peat had 13 points and 9 rebounds to lead UAPB, which played without their two leading scorers in Zaay Green (13.8 points per game) and Khadijah Brown (11.8). Tyler Pyburn added 11 points, and Sade Hudson had 9.
UAPB's teams will play at Texas Southern University in Houston on Saturday, starting with the women's game at 5:30 p.m.