UALR men roll to another win, to play tonight for an NCAA bid

EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- Arkansas-Little Rock men's team extended its winning streak to 10 games and advanced to today's championship game of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament with an 82-57 semifinal victory over Western Illinois on Friday night at the Ford Center.

With a win in tonight's championship game, the Trojans will clinch the OVC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. It would be UALR's first bid since 2016.

UALR will face Morehead State in the championship game today at 7 p.m. Central. The game will be televised on ESPN2.

Khalen Robinson and DeAntoni scored 16 points apiece to lead all scorers. Robinson was also solid on the defensive end, picking up a pair of steals and playing a big role in holding Western Illinois leading scorer, point guard Ryan Myers, to 3-for-15 shooting and 12 points.

Jordan Jefferson and Jamir Chaplin also had 13 and 11 points, respectively, for UALR. Western Illinois was led by JJ Kalakon, who had 15 points.

"The main thing for us to win the game was to rebound and play defense," Robinson said. "We locked in. Ryan Myers is one of their best players and best scorers on their team, so we did focus in on him being a three-point threat. But at the end of the day, we needed to get stops and rebounds and that's what we did."

Western Illinois led for most of the first 10 minutes. UALR tied the game six different times before finally taking a 21-19 at the 9:41 mark of the half. The Leathernecks would stay close, but the Trojans closed the half on a 19-7 scoring run to take a 40-28 halftime lead.

DeAntoni Gordon, Makhel Mitchell and Jaylen Crocker-Johnson each had eight points for UALR in the first half. The Trojans wore Western Illinois out with their transition game, scoring 12 fastbreak points in the first half and 25 for the game. The Trojans also dominated around the basket, outscoring the Leathernecks 54-20 in the lane. Both teams had 40 rebounds.

"When we get in the open court, we're pretty dangerous," UALR Coach Darrell Walker said. "We were flying up and down the court. I thought our zone bothered them. I was griping about how good of an offensive rebounding [team] they were. [Western Illinois] is one of the better rebounding teams in the NCAA, so I thought we did a good job on the glass overall."

The momentum continued to build early in the second half for UALR, as it started out on a 19-5 scoring run in the first 5:05 of the half to extend its lead to59-33.

At the 13:41 mark, there was a scary moment for the Trojans as Mitchell was forced to exit the game with a shoulder injury. With the big lead, Mitchell did not play down the stretch and Walker said he will be evaluated by the team's medical personnel before a decision on his status for tonight's game is decided.

UALR kept its foot on the gas the rest of the way and maintained its large advantage to the end. Gordon had several acrobatic dunks and finishes around the rim. A fastbreak dunk followed by a jumper from Gordon gave the Trojans a 73-47 lead with 6:06 remaining.

"I feel like I just gave us momentum," Gordon said of his play. "Even though we were already up, we were just trying to push the lead little by little."

With one more win needed to achieve the goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament, Walker said he and his players are confident heading into tonight's matchup.

"I thought defensively, the intensity was there," Walker said. "These guys have been locked in for a long time. We put the work in on the defensive side of the ball and we'll be ready. We got one game [tonight] and we got to lock in and see if we can get it done."

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