HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Solomon Bozeman and D'Andre Williams combined for 44 points on Monday night to lead UALR to a 65-56 victory over Middle Tennessee (16-16) in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Conference Championships at Summit Arena. The Trojans (18-16) advance to face North Texas in the SBC Championship game at 6 p.m. Tuesday night on ESPN2, which will mark UALR's first title game appearance since 1996.
"I am just really proud of our basketball team. We showed some real courage tonight, showed some togetherness against a very good basketball team and well-coached basketball team. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kermit (Davis) and the job that he does," said UALR head coach Steve Shields.
"I have a gritty bunch of guys in our locker room. They don't care who gets the credit. That is why they have been a fun group to practice with. The seniors were driven and were committed to a great offseason."
Bozeman, the 2011 Sun Belt Player of the Year, scored a game-high 25 points behind a 19-for-22 effort at the foul line, while Williams chipped in a career-high 19 points by going 7-of-10 from the field. Bozeman's career-high 19 free throws pushed his season total to 210, which allowed him to break both the UALR and Sun Belt Conference single-season records. Pete Myers held the previous record for free throws in a season by a Trojan (195), while Charlotte's Cedric Maxwell (202) was the Sun Belt's former standard holder.
Defense carried the Trojans for the second-straight day, as UALR held Middle Tennessee to a .359 field goal percentage while forcing the Blue Raiders into 20 turnovers. JT Sulton led MT with a 21-point, 11-rebound double-double to help the Blue Raiders to a +10 margin on the glass (37-to-27).
The Trojans led 27-19 at the half after holding MT to 30.0 percent from the field (6-of-20) in the first half. UALR pushed its lead to 10 points early on in the second half, 33-23, but the Blue Raiders fought back to make it a one-point ballgame on two occasions, the last of which came at 43-42 off a pair of free throws by James Washington. UALR quickly got its lead back to five points, 47-42, as senior Matt Mouzy assisted on dunk by senior Montrell Thornton, and then sank a jumper from the wing.
Up 47-43, Bozeman was sent to the line after drawing a foul from Trevor Ottley, and then earned two more free throws when MT head coach Kermit Davis was whistled for a technical foul. Bozeman promptly sank all four of his foul shots to extend UALR's lead to eight points, 51-43, with 4:56 left to play.
After misfiring on its first eight three-point attempts, Rod Emanuel connected from beyond the arc to make it a 53-48 contest. With the lead cut to five, Williams sank a jumper on the other end, and Bozeman knocked down two free throws moments to later to dash any hopes of a Blue Raider comeback. Middle Tennessee never seriously threatened again, as UALR went 19-for-23 at the foul line in the second half.
UALR will seek its first Sun Belt Conference Tournament title when it squares off against North Texas on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised by ESPN2.