MONROE, La. – The UALR men’s basketball team (19-10, 11-7) clinched the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and a share of the West Division title with a hard-fought 59-55 win at ULM (10-20, 4-14) on Saturday night.
In a must-win game, the Trojans put together a 12-2 run in the second half, with two three pointers from freshman Matt Mouzy, to take the lead for good, and sealed the victory by going 4-of-4 at the foul line over the final 7.4 seconds. UALR was outrebounded 26-to-31 on the night, but committed just nine turnovers and shot 57.9 percent from the field in the second half.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. After falling to 7-7, after losing to New Orleans at home, they showed tenacity and resiliency to win four straight games,” said UALR head coach Steve Shields. “Our guys really showed some bounce and were able to get things turned around in the second half.”
This is the third West Division title in Shields’ five seasons as head coach. UALR and Louisiana-Lafayette finished with identical 11-7 conference records, but the Trojans earned the No. 2 seed by sweeping the season series with the Ragin’ Cajuns. As the No. 2 seed, the Trojans get a first-round bye in the Sun Belt Tournament, and advance directly to the quarterfinals in Mobile, Ala. where they will face the winner of Florida International and Florida Atlantic on Sunday, March 9.
Juniors Shane Edwards and John Fowler led the Trojans with 10 points a piece, while the Warhawks were paced by a game-high 19 points from Jonas Brown. ULM leading scorer Tony Hooper got into early foul trouble, picking up three first-half fouls, and finished with just seven points in 22 minutes.
UALR took a one-point lead into the break, 22-21, after a tight first half in which neither team led by more than four points. ULM went ahead 18-16 off a dunk by Mitchell Hampton at the 9:55 mark, but Hampton’s dunk would mark the team’s final field goal of the half.
The Warhawks went 7-of-12 from the field to start the game, but followed up Hampton’s dunk by going 0-for-8 over the final 9:55 – scoring the rest of their first-half points at the foul line off 3-of-6 shooting.
Down 16-18, the Trojans ripped off six-unanswered points to take a 22-18 lead with 5:50 to go. Junior Brandon Patterson capped off the quick 6-0 spurt with a steal, which he quickly pushed up the court to sophomore Mike Smith for a fastbreak dunk.
Unfortunately for UALR, Smith’s dunk with 5:50 on the clock would mark the Trojans final points of the first half. ULM’s own shooting woes prevented the Warhawks from capitalizing – as both teams shot under 40 percent from the floor in the first half.
ULM broke out of its shooting slump at the start of the second half, making 7-of-14 to start the frame, with the last basket giving the Warhawks a 35-32 lead with 13:10 remaining after a field goal by Brown.
After struggling to find their stroke for much of the game, UALR got a spark off the bench from Mouzy, who hit two three pointers to key a 12-2 run for the Trojans. Down 32-35, Mouzy tied the game at 35-all with his first three pointer. UALR reclaimed the lead, 38-35, off a three-point play by Fowler, which Mouzy followed with his second trey. Senior Terrance Akins capped off the 12-2 run with a three pointer of his own, to put UALR ahead 44-37 with 9:24 left to play.
The Trojans were unable to put any distance on the Warhawks, with ULM trailing by a single point, 53-52, with 2:10 left. Down 55-52, Brown earned a trip to the line with 22 seconds left. He went 1-of-2 at the foul line, missing the second shot, but ULM was able to get the offensive rebound. After a timeout, Brown penetrated and put up a potential game-tying shot, but missed from five-feet out and Patterson was able to get the rebound and save it on his way out of bounds to Fowler.
Fowler and Moore then went a combined 4-of-4 at the foul line over the final 7.4 seconds to seal the win for UALR.