Gillon guides Trojans past in-state rival
The UALR men’s basketball team played its final home game of the season Saturday, March 2, against in-state rival Arkansas State University.
This rivalry game was one for the record books, as the level of competition, emotion and intensity of the game was reverberated through a quick examination of the stat sheet. In total, the two teams committed 59 fouls, seven technical fouls and dazzling display of skill in front of a crowd of about 5,300 people at the Jack Stephens Center.
Steve Shields, head coach of the UALR men’s basketball team, decided to give Ted Crass, the team’s lone senior, a spot in the starting line-up, earning the first start of his career. This gave freshman John Gillon a golden opportunity to become a spark off the bench for a Trojan basketball team that has seen sporadic scoring from its bench during the regular season.
Gillon finished with 24 points on the night, 15 of them coming in the form of free throws- one in particular on a play in which he shot a three pointer, made it, drew the foul and scored the free throw. Gillon’s four-point play turned out to be the turning point of the game in which the Trojans would use Gillon’s play to go on a 16-0 run in the span of just under four minutes. During that run, Gillon chipped in seven points, sophomore Gus Leeper muscled-in four points, junior Leroy Isler hit a three pointer and freshman Josh Hagins scored a two-point layup.
“We were playing off the energy of the crowd,” Gillon said. “We wanted to win the game so bad, mostly for Ted, but just for ourselves and to put us in a good position going into the [Sun Belt Conference] tournament.”
After the Trojan’s scoring barrage, the closest ASU would get would be three points, after the Red Wolves’ Trey Finn hit a pair of free throws to cut UALR’s lead 61-58 with just over seven minutes left to play.
Shields said he told his team to stick to the game plan and not get frustrated whenever they looked at the scoreboard and continually saw that they were trailing ASU.
“You’re not going getting it all back in one possession-you gotta keep grinding it, you gotta keep fighting and getting stops,” Shields said.
Back-to-back buckets from UALR’s Michael Javes helped seal ASU’s fate, making it a 66-59 affair with about four and a half minutes left in the game.
The Trojans and the Red Wolves would trade baskets as the clock withered away. Shields inserted Crass into the lineup one final time, with nine seconds left in the game. Crass finished his final home game as a Trojan basketball player by holding the ball high above his head, reaching for the rafters, and hearing the final buzzer sound as a throng of fans rushed the court in celebration of a successful regular season.
Shields acknowledged the passion the fans had during the final home game of the regular season and hopes that passion carries over to the Sun Belt Conference tournament in Hot Springs- especially since it will be the final time the tournament will be in Hot Springs.
“I thought our crowd was phenomenal here- what a sixth man to our basketball team right there,” Shields said, pointing towards the seats in the arena. “Hopefully they will make this tournament over in Hot Springs the best of the five [appearances]-we’ve had four really good ones there.”
The Trojans are looking ahead to their fifth appearance in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, which will take place March 8-11 in Hot Springs. They have earned a first-round bye in the tournament as a fifth seed. They will play Florida International University March 9 at 6 p.m. at the Convention Center Court. It is a win-or-go-home scenario- meaning the Trojans must win or their season will be finished.