Trojans hang on with a win
The Trojan men’s basketball team picked up an important win defeating the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 62-58 Saturday, Feb. 19, in UALR’s homecoming game at the Jack Stephens Center in front of 3,410 people. The win keeps UALR within two games of Sun Belt West division leader Denver with three games remaining.
The Trojans (15-13, 7-6 SBC) trailed 23-20 with 4:12 remaining in the first half, but finished on an 8-0 run capped by a thunderous dunk by senior forward Montrell Thornton from an offensive rebound to lead 30-23 at the half.
The Blue Raiders (14-14, 9-6 SBC) opened the second half on an 18-3 run capped by a 3-pointer by senior MTU guard James Washington to make it an eight-point Trojan deficit.
“You have to give Middle Tennessee credit for the run they made in the second half,” Trojan coach Steve Shields said. “We knew they were going to make a run, but hoped we could have done something for the start of the second half, as all coaches talk about the importance of finishing halves and starting halves.”
UALR countered MTU’s run with a 15-5 run the next 5:34 to take a 48-46 lead after a layup by senior guard Solomon Bozeman. Bozeman was limited to 20 minutes for the game, getting into early foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 15:37 left in the game, but led the Trojans with 17 points and four assists.
“I thought we showed great poise,” Shields said. “Any time you’re in a game like this, after Thursday night [a loss to Western Kentucky], it’s a ‘must’ game for our guys. To have the poise and to continue to share the basketball is a sign of a team maturing.”
Middle Tennessee tied the game four times the remaining 6:32 of the game, but could never take the lead. After two made free throws by red-shirt sophomore Jason Jones tied the Trojans 57-57, senior guard Matt Mouzy hit a 3-pointer with 1:40 left to take the lead. Bozeman hit two free throws with :13 to seal the victory. Mouzy hit 3-9 3-pointers and finished with nine points.
Freshman forward Gus Leeper earned the start for the Trojans. Leeper averaged a team low 6.2 minutes per game, but played 21 minutes against MTU scoring four points, grabbing five rebounds and blocking two shots.
“I thought it was a really good team effort,” Leeper said. “That was probably the best we played in awhile as a group defensively and we passed the ball very well.”
“Gus has really been practicing well lately,” Shields said. “[He] is a guy that works extremely hard. He came early this summer to work with our strength coach and he’s committed. He never dropped his head even when he lost a little playing time and he’s continued to work hard in practice. He showed tonight why he got the start.”
After getting out-rebounded by nine against Western Kentucky on Thursday, the Trojans held the rebounding edge against Middle Tennessee 38-33. The Blue Raiders had three players in double-digit scoring led by Washington’s 17.
The Trojans hit the road to face South Alabama at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 24, in Mobile, Ala. They travel to Jonesboro to play Arkansas State Saturday, Feb. 26. UALR returns home Tuesday, March 1, to end the regular season against North Texas.