The Arkansas-Little Rock men's basketball team pulled out a 71-66 win in its season opener against Texas State on Monday night at the Jack Stephens Center.
Khalen Robinson and DeAntoni Gordon were the high scorers in the game, finishing with 24 and 17 points, respectively, for the Trojans. The Bobcats were led by Josh O'Garro, who scored 15 points off the bench for the visitors.
Robinson scored 14 of his 24 points from the free-throw line. After starting the game off 1 for 7 shooting, Robinson became much more aggressive in the second half, looking to get into the paint and draw contact.
"Just being more aggressive and attacking the rim," Robinson said of his performance in the second half. "Coach told me at halftime to stop settling and attack the basket. I knew they were going to bump me, so just anticipating that bump and finishing through contact."
The Trojans opened the game hot, taking a double digit lead at 19-8 on a basket from Jamir Chaplin with 13:20 left in the first half, forcing a Bobcats timeout. Texas State regrouped and was able to trim the UALR lead to 38-34 going into halftime.
Gordon had 15 of his 17 points in the first 20 minutes for UALR, while Brandon Love led Texas State with 11 points at the break. The Bobcats scored 22 points in the paint in the first half to chip away at the deficit despite their slow start.
The Bobcats also dominated on the glass throughout the game, winning the rebounding battle 53-31, a glaring discrepancy Trojans Coach Darrell Walker addressed after the game.
"I knew they were a very good rebounding team on both sides of the court," he said. "At the end of the day, we didn't rebound the ball. We got outrebounded 53-31. That's a big time concern. We have to figure out how to rebound the ball."
Much like the first half, UALR started the second half strong, pushing the lead back to up 11 at 50-39 with 14:08 left in the second half on a made layup from Robinson and a Texas State foul that energized the crowd.
"I thought KK [Robinson] really played well for us down the stretch," Walker said. "He is a load going downhill and he can finish. I guess he shot 18 free throws by attacking."
Once again, the Bobcats had a response, going on a 8-0 run in just 1:52 to close the gap to 50-47 with 12:16 left in the game. Texas State trimmed the lead to 59-58 on a pair of made free throws from Dontae Horne at the 4:08 mark in the second half.
Less than a minute later, the Bobcats took a 60-59 lead on a layup from Horne with 3:11 left. The lead change would be short lived as Chaplin converted on an and-one just 24 second later to give the lead back to the Trojans at 62-60.
UALR tightened up defensively after that, forcing two turnovers and holding Texas State to just two field goals in the final three minutes of the contest, both of which came inside the last 10 seconds.
While the Trojans struggled immensely rebounding the ball, their defensive speed created problems for the Bobcats. UALR was able to force 22 turnovers and score 25 points off of those turnovers.
"Playing against Texas State we knew it was going to be a physical basketball game," Walker said. "I was trying to get the team prepared for that. We got some work to do but it was a good win. Last year we would have lost this game."