The Arkansas-Little Rock men's basketball team returns to the Jack Stephens Center at 6:30 p.m. tonight for the first time since narrowly losing to Eastern Illinois 90-88 on Jan. 6 to face Lindenwood. The Trojans have only played two games in the last 19 days, giving them ample practice time to improve and work on their deficiencies.
"Trying to get better defensively, that was our main goal," Coach Darrell Walker said of the extra practice sessions. "I'm not concerned about us offensively, I'm just concerned about us being consistent defensively for 40 minutes. If we do that, we're a good basketball team."
In the two road games UALR played in the past two weeks, it lost 77-72 at Tenn.-Martin on Jan 13, but pulled out a 77-75 win at Southern Indiana on Jan 18. Like many games in the Ohio Valley Conference, both games were decided in the final moments.
"If you're going to win the OVC, you have to win some games on the road," Walker said. "We went to Southern Indiana and won 77-75, but it shouldn't have been that close because we wind up making 21 of 37 [56.7%] free throws. If we would have made our free throws, the game would have been out of reach. At the end of the day we still got a win on the road which is good."
Khalen Robinson and Jamir Chaplin continue to lead the Trojans' scoring attack, averaging 17.9 and 16.8 points per game, respectively. DeAntoni Gordon has been a consistent third option offensively, averaging 12.5 points per game.
Bradley Douglas and Makhel Mitchell have emerged as viable scoring threats off the bench, giving UALR (9-10, 3-3 OVC) a production boost from its second unit. Creed Williamson and Cougar Downing also see significant minutes off the bench at times. Mitchell finished with 10 points and four rebounds in the win over the Screaming Eagles, his strongest performance of the season.
"It's a luxury to bring [Mitchell] off the bench along with Creed Williamson," Walker said. "[Mitchell] played well. He had a heck of a game. It was one of his better games since he's been here and he's getting more comfortable now. You see it in practice and you see it in the games."
With a struggling Lindenwood team (7-12, 1-5) coming into Little Rock tonight, the Trojans will look to take advantage and pick up another conference win to build the win over Southern Indiana. Senior forward Keenon Cole leads the Lions, averaging 18.7 points per game.
"You can't look at their record," Walker said. "I think they're a pretty good basketball team. I know Cole and [Darius] Beane are really two good players. Cole was All-OVC last year and preseason All-OVC this year."
Walker has stressed protecting the home floor to his team in recent weeks, no matter who the opponent is. With seven of its final 12 games of the regular season set to be played at the Jack Stephens Center, UALR could find itself in the upper echelon of the conference standings if it can protect its home court.
"Our thing is we have two games at home [this week]," Walker said. "We have to take care of home and not lose any games at home. That starts [tonight] at 6:30. Hopefully we can get some people in the stands to come support us.
"We've played four road games and won two of them. Most coaches would take that. We now have some games at home where we can make some ground up. If we can take care of [tonight] and Saturday [Southeast Missouri], we'll be sitting there at 5-3 [OVC] and right in the thick of things."