The hottest team in the Sun Belt Conference was brought down to earth Thursday night.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock men's basketball team entered on a seven-game winning streak and riding a wave of confidence. But the Trojans were met by an unrelenting Texas State squad -- the same one that blew a 15-point lead and lost by four to UALR in this season's first meeting Jan. 2 in Little Rock.
Appearing rejuvenated with the return of senior guard Nijal Pearson -- who had missed Saturday's game at Appalachian State for the birth of his child -- the Bobcats were red hot early, led by as many as 22 points and then held a 19-point halftime lead, before toppling UALR 74-66 at Strahan Arena in San Marcos, Texas.
The Trojans have now lost the past three meetings in San Marcos.
It was UALR's first defeat in 33 days, and with it, the Trojans' three-game lead in the Sun Belt Conference standings dwindled to two, as Georgia State (17-9, 10-5) and Georgia Southern (16-10, 10-5) each won Thursday night.
Despite the eight-point margin, it was domination from start to nearly finish for Texas State (16-10, 9-6) which played more physically and more aggressively.
UALR (18-8, 12-3) has been one of the top rebounding teams in the league, but it was outworked on the boards by Texas State 38-28, including allowing 17 offensive rebounds that helped generate 17 second-chance points. The Bobcats also scored 42 points in the paint.
"Give them credit -- they kicked our butts. Simple as that," UALR Coach Darrell Walker said. "It's no sugarcoating it. That's end of story. They kicked our butts."
Texas State ran out to a 15-4 lead in the opening 6 1/2 minutes, which eventually ballooned to a 29-7 advantage with 8:17 remaining in the first half. Moments later, UALR recorded just its second field goal of the game with a jumper by sophomore forward Nikola Maric. The Trojans never held a lead in the contest.
Maric's bucket helped spark a 9-2 run for UALR, whittling the deficit to 31-16 with 5:04 left before halftime. Texas State eventually took a 41-22 lead into the break.
But the Trojans did not go away in the second half, thanks to 16-of-24 shooting after hitting just 6 of 20 from the floor in the opening 20 minutes.
Texas State's lead was down to 62-54 after UALR junior guard Jaizec Lottie scored on a layup with 6:41 left in the game. That basket capped an 8-0 spurt by UALR in less than two minutes.
It was down to 68-61 after freshman guard Marko Lukic hit a jumper with 3:20 remaining, but the Trojans' comeback hopes dissipated when Texas State answered with a 6-0 run to go up 13 with just under a minute and a half to play.
Forward Alonzo Sule paced Texas State with a game-high 26 points -- including 16 in the first half -- on 12-of-16 shooting, while grabbing 10 rebounds in 29 minutes. Pearson added 15 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists in his return.
Sophomore forward Kamani Johnson had a team-high 14 points for the Trojans. Junior forward Ruot Monyyong tallied 12 points and 6 boards, and freshman guard Jovan Stulic added 11 points.
Sophomore point guard Markquis Nowell managed just 5 points on 1-of-5 shooting, 2 assists and 6 turnovers in 30 minutes.
UALR has a short time to regroup before it travels to Texas-Arlington (11-15, 7-8) for a 2 p.m. Central game Saturday.
"We got what we deserved," Walker said, "and now [we've] got to buckle up and see how good we really are and see if we can go on the road and get a win."
SUN BELT MEN
ARKANSAS STATE 67
Radshad Davis scored 15 points and collected 14 rebounds in leading Texas-Arlington to a victory over Arkansas State at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, Thursday night.
With the game tied at 6-6, Texas-Arlington (11-15, 7-8 Sun Belt) scored 12 consecutive points, and the Mavericks' lead was never under eight the remainder of the contest.
Texas-Arlington led 39-28 at the half and by as many as 20 in the second half. The Mavericks held a 40-27 rebounding advantage.
Sam Griffin scored a game-high 19 points for the Mavericks, who were 26 of 53 (49.1%) from the floor and 7 of 15 (46.7%) from beyond the arc. Brian Warren came off the bench to add 15 points for Texas-Arlington.
Jerry Johnson Jr. led Arkansas State (15-11, 7-8) with 17 points. Marquis Eaton added 16 and Melo Eggleston 13 for the Red Wolves.
Eggleston added a team-high five rebounds for Arkansas State, which was 23 of 54 (42.6%) from the floor and 6 of 20 (30%) from three-point range.
Sports on 02/14/2020
Print Headline: First-place UALR handled in Texas