Men defy odds to reach finals
The Trojan men are playing in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game for the first time since 1996 after defeating the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders 65-56 in a semi-final game Monday, March 7, at Summit Arena in Hot Springs. UALR will face last year’s SBC champion, the North Texas Mean Green at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 8.
“I’m just very proud of our basketball team,” UALR coach Steve Shields said. “I thought we showed some real courage tonight, showed some togetherness against a very good basketball team.”
Tied 5-5, UALR went on a 12-3 run covering 7:39, capped by a Solomon Bozeman 10-foot jump shot with 7:15 remaining in the half. MTU countered with a 7-0 run with forward J.T. Sulton scoring six of those points.
The Trojans (18-16) closed the first half on a 10-4 run and led 27-19 at halftime. They held MTU to 30 percent shooting and forced 12 turnovers, but the Blue Raiders (16-16) held the rebounding edge 20-15 in the half. Bozeman had nine points in the half while Sulton had six points and seven rebounds.
Trojan junior guard D’Andre Williams scored a season-high 19 points, shooting 7-10 from the field and 4-4 from the free-throw line. Williams was also the defensive catalyst for UALR, which held MTU to 36 percent shooting and forced 20 turnovers for the game.
“D’Andre had a great game today,” Bozeman said. “He’s like our rock. He’ll do anything he can for the team. Most people think he can’t score the ball because he doesn’t shoot, but he showed tonight he’s a great scorer.”
The Trojans went on a 6-2 run in 2:04 early in the second half to lead by 10, but MTU chipped away and got within one point, 41-40, when Sulton hit 1-2 free throws at the 7:29 mark. The Blue Raiders would get no closer as UALR extended its lead with help from Bozeman shooting 12-14 from the free-throw line the last 4:56. The Trojans have never trailed in the second half for the three games they have played in the tournament.
Bozeman, the SBC Player of the Year, hit 14-16 free throws in the second half and 19-22 in the game to finish with a game-high 25 points. UALR freshman Gus Leeper led the team with seven rebounds. Sulton recorded a double-double for MTU, scoring 21 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Senior James Washington scored 13 points for the Blue Raiders.
“That’s a gritty bunch of guys in that locker room,” Shields said. “They don’t care who gets the credit and that’s why they’ve been a fun group to go practice with each and every day.”
UPDATE: The Trojans defeated former SBC champion North Texas Mean Green 64-63 and will advance to the NCAA Tournament. More details to follow.