Three point barrage snuffs out men’s season
The UALR men’s basketball team could not contain Florida International’s Malik Smith and his near-historic night during the Saturday, March 9 game of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on the Convention Center Court.
Smith hit eight of 10 three-point shots against UALR, ending with a game-high 25 points by the time the final buzzer sounded.
The last time a player in the men’s tournament hit that many three pointers was during the 1997 tournament when John Knox of Jacksonville University hit nine three-point shots against Arkansas State University.
The Trojans had split the season series against FIU, but nothing can be predicted or anticipated when it comes to the conference tournament.
FIU got off to a hot start and began playing full-court man-to-man defense to rattle UALR and make it difficult for the youthful team to get into an offensive set.
“It’s relentless,” freshman John Gillon said of the FIU full-court press. “It doesn’t stop. Event after a timeout, after a made shot, they were still back in their press.”
FIU found multiple ways to get Smith the ball to fire away from the three-point line. FIU brought Smith off of staggered screens, pick-and-roll options and even passing him the ball to shoot a three pointer off of a fast break. Through the first eight minutes of play he was 3 of 4 from behind the arc.
With just under 4 minutes remaining in the first half, FIU had extended its lead to 16 points; however, UALR began to chip away at the score by going on a scoring frenzy.
UALR held FIU scoreless for the final two minutes of the half as they racked up enough points to cut FIU’s lead to 8.
Going into the locker room, it was FIU 34, UALR 26. The Trojans enjoyed the 11-point spark that freshman John Gillon provided off the bench during the half.
The Trojans were able to stay within striking distance for most of the second half; however, FIU was able to answer UALR on nearly every made basket, which made it difficult for the Trojans to get momentum and take control of the game.
FIU’s Smith made three more three-point shots during the second half. Each made three seemed to correlate with a deflation in UALR’s confidence to get back into the game. At one point during the second half, FIU extended its lead to 20 points over the Trojans.
“They played consistently hard throughout the whole game and we didn’t match it,” Gillon said.
Steve Shields, the head coach for UALR, conceded the defeat and said FIU was just the better team on March 9.
“We faced a better prepared team, a better coached team tonight and a team that played harder and played with more toughness and more passion tonight,” the coach said.
“When people get up in us, [that] is when we struggle. We’ve got to become a tougher-minded team where we handle pressure better,” Shields said.
The Trojans finished the season with a record of 17 wins and 15 losses. This was the final game of the season for senior Ted Crass, who logged one minute of play against FIU.