NEW ORLEANS -- Minutes after elimination, Mike Balado said several players approached him saying, "Coach, you were right."
The Arkansas State University men's basketball team had beaten Louisiana-Monroe twice during the regular season, including an 83-79 victory in the season finale Saturday.
The rematch Wednesday night in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament's first round approached, and Balado said he told his players that "tonight was going to be the hardest game they played all year."
Arkansas State (11-21) lost 76-54 to Louisiana-Monroe (16-14), and Red Wolves junior guard Ty Cockfield said afterward the Warhawks "wanted it more."
Arkansas State's shooting percentage (33.3) was its second lowest of the season, and the Red Wolves were 4 of 16 from three-point range.
It was Arkansas State's largest loss since an 80-49 setback to Georgia Southern on Jan. 6.
Through the tunnel, the locker room and hallways in Lakefront Arena, Balado said he heard "you were right" three times.
"Well, it's too late now," Balado said behind the podium microphone at the postgame news conference. "The good thing is, all the guys that said that are returning. So, now they know. So, that's what we expect, is to win from now on and go to the NCAA Tournament. That's been our goal from Day One."
Balado, a four-year assistant at Louisville, was hired by Arkansas State on March 20 -- less than two weeks after the Red Wolves were also eliminated in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament by Louisiana-Monroe.
This second elimination solidified the most losses in a single season in the program's 89-year history.
Balado said that "distractions have limped us along all year," which included when he permanently dismissed senior guard and leading scorer Deven Simms (17.1 points per game) on Feb. 10 because Simms "was unable to adhere" to team standards.
"After spring break, we're going to hit the reset button," Balado said. "These are all guys that want to play for Arkansas State."
None of Arkansas State's five coaches since it joined the Sun Belt in 1991-1992 have won their first appearance in the conference tournament.
"It's got nothing to do with first year, second year," Balado said. "It's just we drew a team that wanted it more than we did."
Louisiana-Monroe senior guard Marvin Jean-Pierre scored a game-high 23 points, and Cockfield led the Red Wolves with 12 points.
Arkansas State fell behind 7-2 in the opening five minutes when the Red Wolves went 1-of-5 shooting with 6 turnovers.
Arkansas State was 0 for 7 from three-point range before Cockfield made a three from the right side to pull within 32-25 with 2:31 left in the first half.
Offensive momentum was stunted by 15 total Red Wolves turnovers, which Louisiana-Monroe turned into 19 points.
"The problem with this team all year has been that they have allowed their offense to dictate the way that they play defensively," Balado said. "What happens is when they shoot well, they get jived up. But it's the opposite, when you are shooting well, you've got to get jived up to get turnovers, fast breaks.
"When I saw the shooting percentage, I started to get a little concerned, because I have seen it before."
Arkansas State fell behind by as many as 30 points during the second half -- outsized and unable to score in the low post when Louisiana-Monroe 6-11 sophomore center Sam Alabakis was in the game, and unable to make three-pointers to close the margin.
"Our emphasis was to step out [on defense] closer to the three-point line than we did on Saturday," Louisiana-Monroe Coach Keith Richard said. "Which we knew they were going to put the ball on the ground after that.
"I thought Sam Alabakis did a tremendous job of altering shots down there without fouling. That was just as big a key as running them off the three-point line."
Alabakis extended the Warhawks' lead to 49-30 with 16:17 left in the game after he made a layup, a free throw, forced a missed Red Wolves shot, and recorded a defensive rebound that led to a layup.
Arkansas State junior guard Grantham Gillard and Cockfield missed consecutive threes, and Louisiana-Monroe's Jordon Harris and Sam McDaniel made consecutive threes to extend the Warhawks lead to 52-32 with 13:35 left in the game.
Jean-Pierre's three-pointer made it 63-33 with 7:49 remaining for the largest deficit.
At a glance
Texas State 73, Coastal Carolina 66
Appalachian State 93, UALR 64
Troy 68, South Alabama 63
La.-Monroe 76, Arkansas State 54
All times Central
La.-Lafayette vs. Texas St., 11:30 a.m. Texas-Arlingtonvs.AppalachianSt.,2p.m. Georgia State vs. Troy, 5 p.m. Ga. Southern vs. La.-Monroe, 7:30 p.m.Gallery: ASU men Vs ULM
Sports on 03/08/2018
Print Headline: Wolves believe warning too late