HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - The UALR men's basketball team (17-16) advanced to the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Championships with a 59-52 win over Arkansas State (17-15) at Summit Arena on Sunday night. The Trojans held Arkansas State to a .333 field goal percentage to snap a three-game losing streak to the Red Wolves, and move on to face Middle Tennessee at 8:30 p.m. on Monday night.
"I am really proud of our guys. We got in some foul problems in the first half. We were struggling to defend. We were fortunate to have a one point lead at the half against a very good team and a well coached team," said UALR head coach Steve Shields. "I thought our guys came back at the half after we talked to them about having more poise. We were down nine on the glass at the half and I didn't think we could win unless we won the rebounding battle in the second half."
Senior Solomon Bozeman led the Trojans with 15 points off an 8-of-9 effort at the foul line, and senior Montrell Thornton added 10 points, a career-high nine rebounds and four blocks off the bench. The top-seeded team out of the West, the Red Wolves were led by a game-high 16 points from Rashad Allison but felt the loss of starter Trey Finn - out for the year with a knee injury suffered earlier this week.
UALR held a slim 48-46 lead with 1:38 left in the game after a 6-0 run by the Red Wolves, with four points from Allison, but gained some breathing room when a technical foul was called against ASU coach John Brady. Bozeman sank both technical foul shots and junior D'Andre Williams scored on a drive to the basket moments later to extend UALR's lead to six points, 52-46.
After ASU's Martavius Adams went 0-for-2 at the foul line, senior Alex Garcia-Mendoza put the Trojans ahead by eight, 54-46, with a bucket in the paint. UALR then went 5-for-6 at the foul line over the final 31 seconds to seal the win.
Arkansas State got off to a slow start offensively on Sunday night, connecting on just 2-of-12 field goal attempts at the start of the game as the Trojans built a 15-7 lead following a dunk by Thornton at the 13:18 mark. UALR's lead reached as high as 11 points in the first half, 23-12, after Garcia-Mendoza sank a pair of foul shots, but the Red Wolves worked their way back into the game at the free-throw line as UALR was called for twice as many fouls as ASU in the first half (14-to-7). The Trojans had three starters with two fouls against them just 5:41 into the game.
ASU went 15-for-20 at the foul line in the first half and cut its deficit down to a single point, 28-27, on fastbreak layup by Donald Boone with 1:37 left to play. The Red Wolves made just 7-of-24 from the field in the first half (29.2 percent), but played to a +9 rebounding margin (24-to-15) over the first 20 minutes to make it a one-point game at the break, 30-29.
UALR did a better job on the glass in the second half, outrebounding the Red Wolves by three over the final 20 minutes (18-to-15). After shooting 20 free throws in the first half, ASU made just three trips to the foul line in the second half, and didn't make its first trip to the line until there was just 3:40 left to play. The Trojans shot 45.5 percent from the field in the second half (43.8 pct. for the game) while converting 9-of-11 free-throw attempts.
UALR advances to face (E2) Middle Tennessee at 8:30 p.m. on Monday night. The Blue Raiders are the highest remaining seed in the 2011 Sun Belt Championships.