Trojans win come-from-behind thriller
After a rough first half, the UALR men’s basketball team received words of inspiration at halftime to help lead a second half rally in overcoming a 22-point deficit to defeat Florida Atlantic University Jan. 24, at the Jack Stephens Center.
FAU got off to a hot start against the Trojans. The first 12 points for the Owls all came from beyond the three point line and hitting all four attempts.
UALR’s game plan revolved around getting the ball inside the paint in attempt to utilize an asset FAU did not have: height. Steve Shields, head coach for UALR, used combinations of junior Will Neighbour, sophomore Gus Leeper, sophomore Michael Javes and freshman James White, who all stand 6’ 8” or taller, in an attempt to utilize their height as much as possible. The Trojans would only encounter one player taller than 6’ 8” on FAU’s roster and that was Dragan Sekelja, a 7-foot-tall Croatian.
UALR struggled to make baskets throughout the entire first half, shooting 7 for 25 from the field and demonstrating that height can not make up for poor shooting.
At the start of this contest, FAU’s Greg Gantt was third in the nation in points-per-game, averaging 22.5ppg. The Trojans were able to drive the ball at Gantt and drew fouls against him. Gantt was called for three fouls in a span of eight minutes, forcing Mike Jarvis, head coach of FAU, to sit his star player for the remainder of the first half.
Beginning at the 11:51 mark of the first half, FAU went on a 14-2 scoring run against UALR. During that run, at the 5:40 mark, FAU drained a three point shot putting the Owls up 25-11 over UALR, and Shields called for timeout. On the very next FAU possession, another three point shot was made and Shields screamed for a timeout as he was visibly disgruntled with his players’ lack of defensive intensity. As Shields called for time, the score was 28-11.
Going into halftime, FAU led 35-19. Neighbour led the Trojans with 9 points and 4 rebounds. FAU’s Stefan Moody led his team with 14 points and 2 rebounds. As a team, FAU shot 14 of 25 from the field in the first half, grabbed 19 total rebounds and enjoyed an 11-point contribution from its bench.
Over the course of the first half, Shields used all 12 of his players to find a combination that would help cool FAU’s three point shooting (7 of 8) in the first half.
According to Shields, a rousing halftime speech by senior Ted Crass rallied the Trojans to turn things around going into the second half.
“He [Crass] talked about having only four and a half home games left and how hard everybody’s worked [dating] back into the summer and to not have regrets, basically,” Shields said.
“He challenged all our guys and that’s what Ted’s done for this team,” Shields said. Adding, “He’s the only senior.”
“Ted: he’s a fiery guy, he’s been with us for a while and he’s an effort-based guy. That’s why, that’s why he came out,” Shields said, pausing, fighting back emotion in a moment in which the head coach was visibly moved by the actions and leadership of Crass.
As Shields glanced down at the podium, shaking his head, he said, “Man, I love him like he’s my own,” his eyes returning to members of the media and regaining his train of thought. “And that’s why he came out last year and he’d been a manager for me for three years.” Again, Shields paused, looking down at the podium trying to distract himself, and said, “He’s tough. He’s going to be a heck of a coach, too.”
The buzzer sounded and the players returned to their respective benches to begin the second half, fresh off of Crass’ halftime speech and Shields’ strategic maneuvers.
UALR attacked the paint to start the second half and began making shots. Meanwhile, FAU began to struggle in finding an offensive rhythm.
The Trojans continued to chip away at the score, cutting the deficit 43-52 with about 10 minutes remaining in the game.
UALR and FAU continued to trade baskets through the next six minutes, leaving the score 52-59 with 4:11 remaining and FAU on top. The next two Trojan possessions resulted in four made free throws, making this a three point game with just over three minutes to play.
As the two teams came back onto the floor, the crowd at the Jack Stephens Center was on its feet and chanting “defense.” The Trojans forced a turnover and Neighbour knocked down a two point shot with 2:32 left in the game, making it 58-59.
FAU’s Gantt, the number three-leading scorer in Division 1 basketball, went to the line to shoot two free throws with 2:20 left. The crowd of about 3,300 came to a deafening roar as Gantt shot and missed the first free throw. His second attempt was good and he extended FAU’s lead 60-58.
Hagins drained a long two point shot from near the top of the key to tie the game with 1:57 left in the game. FAU’s next possession resulted in a miss and Neighbour grabbed the rebound and was fouled 90 feet from his basket. The Trojans were in double bonus, so Neighbour went to the free throw line for two shots and a chance for the Trojans to take their first lead of the game.
Neighbour sank both free throws and gave the Trojans a 62-60 lead.
The Owls were scrapping to find two points and they came from Jordan McCoy, who knocked down his first and only basket of the game to tie the score at 62 with 1:05 left in the game. Shields and the Trojans called for a time out.
Out of the time out, the Trojans set up a play to burn some of the clock. The Owls played tough defense and forced junior Leroy Isler to shoot an off-balance three point shot. The ball missed the rim by a few inches, but freshman Kemy Osse was there for the rebound and tipped the ball in to put the Trojans up 64-62 with 37.8 seconds left.
The referees stopped play momentarily to review the shot on instant replay to find out if Osse beat the shot clock buzzer. After review, the referees declared that the ball left Osse’s hand before the shot clock expired and the shot would count.
On FAU’s next possession, they turned the ball over by fumbling it out of bounds near their own bench. The Owls fouled freshman John Gillon as soon as the Trojans put the ball into play. Gillon missed the first but made the second, giving the Trojans a 65-62 lead.
The Owls got the ball to Gantt, who raced down the court with 8.3 seconds left in the game. He dribbled down the sideline and toward his coach, picking up his dribble and attempting to call timeout. FAU was out of timeouts, so the referees could not award the Owls a timeout and Gantt was called for a traveling violation, which ended the game.
Neighbour finished the game with 24 pints and 11 rebounds for the Trojans. Osse scored 12 points and grabbed 7 rebounds off the bench.
Gantt, the third leading scorer in the nation, was held to 13 points in 27 minutes of action.
After the game, Neighbour, like Shields, attributed the turn around to Crass’ halftime speech.
“He [Crass] got pretty emotional in there and he really picked us up,” Neighbour said. “That was a big part of the game right there. People didn’t see it, but honestly, what he did behind the scenes was massive for us,” Neighbour said. Adding, “It picked us up.”
The Trojans improve to 13-9 on the season and 7-4 in the Sun Belt Conference. UALR is in first place in the SBC West. The team will take on South Alabama Feb. 2 at the Jack Stephens Center.