Trojans drop two in a row at home, coach ‘certain these guys will bounce back’
The UALR Trojan men’s basketball team had a chance to improve their SBC conference record with two home games following a tough 62-58 road victory against South Alabama Feb. 1. However, the Trojans went 0-2 in two very different games.
Thursday, Feb. 6
The two-game home stand began with a conference rematch against the Georgia State Panthers. The Trojans were looking to even the season series after losing to the Panthers earlier this season in a 99-73 rout in Atlanta, but Panthers came in winners of 13-straight games. This time the Trojans played the Panthers much closer, but could never get the offense going. The Trojans suffered another loss to the Panthers, falling 68-57.
The Trojans held the Panthers to 40 percent from the field, but only managed to shoot 37 percent themselves, including 14 percent from three-point range. Sophomore James White, in his return from injury, led the team with 14 points and 7 rebounds. Senior Will Neighbour, the team’s leading scorer, was slowed by injury during the game, but managed to chip in 4 points and grab a team-high 10 rebounds.
The Trojans managed to get the Panthers leading scorer R.J. Hunter into foul trouble and held him to 14 points, but guard Devonta White picked up the slack by scoring 22 points of his own- a testament to the depth of the team, according to UALR Trojan men’s head coach Steve Shields.
“They’ve got four guys who can go for 25 or more on a given night. There’s a reason they’re 10-0 right now,” Shields said. The Trojans had their own backcourt foul trouble, with guards Devonte Smith and Ben Dillard picking up four and Josh Hagins fouling out of the contest, but the coach refused to use that as a crutch.
“We can’t make any excuses,” he said. “That’s part of the game and you’ve got to have guys step up.”
Saturday, Feb. 8
The Trojans took on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, winners of five-straight games, in another conference rematch from earlier this season. The Trojans beat the Hilltoppers in overtime in the earlier road game with dramatic shots by Hagins and Neighbour. This time around, the dramatic shot belonged to Hilltopper guard Trency Jackson. His three-point basket at the buzzer gave WKU the win.
The game featured double-digit leads by each team that neither could hold on to. In the first half, it was WKU that built a 33-23 lead on three-point shooting, only to see UALR cut it to a 36-32 score by halftime.
For the first half, the Hilltoppers shot 7 for 15 from the three-point line and outrebounded the Trojans 17 to 13.
The second half began with a three-pointer from Will Neighbour, who was limited to 23 minutes in the game while still dealing with an injury, which cut the Hilltopper lead to one at 36-35.
After exchanging baskets to begin the second half, the Trojans seemed to key off a technical foul from UALR Coach Shields and, after WKU free throws, pushed the lead to 13 points at 68-55 on a 13-0 run with about 8 minutes left in the game.
Turnovers, fouls and missed free throws from the Trojans allowed the Hilltoppers to creep back into the game and effectively steal it with the three-pointer at the horn by Jackson, who led WKU with 20 points.
The Trojans had five double-figure scorers led by Hagins’ 20 points and 7 assists. James White had 14 points and 9 rebounds, senior Leroy Isler added 13, and junior Ben Dillard and redshirt freshman Mareik Isom contributed 11 points each.
Shields didn’t think that the loss was from any lack of effort from team.
“I told our guys in the locker room that [the loss] wasn’t [due to] a lack of effort by any stretch. We built the lead and felt like we shouldn’t have been in that situation, but I’m proud of my guys’ effort and proud of their togetherness,” Shields said. “I feel certain these guys will bounce back.”
The loss drops the Trojans to 12-12 overall and 7-5 (third place) in conference play. The Trojans will try to get back on the winning track in a road game Thursday Feb. 12 against Louisiana.