HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Senior Solomon Bozeman hit a three pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining to lift the Trojans to a 64-63 win over North Texas (22-11) in the Sun Belt Conference Championship game, and give UALR (19-16) the program's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1990. Bozeman's three pointer helped UALR overcome a seven-point deficit with just 1:42 left in the game, helping the Trojans claim the school's first-ever Sun Belt Tournament title.
Bozeman, the Sun Belt's 2011 Player of the Year, scored a game-high 20 points off 6-of-12 shooting to earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Player award. He averaged 22.0 points per game over UALR's four Sun Belt Tournament wins, to lead the Trojans (the No. 5 seed out of the West) to the program's fourth NCAA Tournament appearance. Bozeman is the first SBC men's basketball player to win both the Player of the Year award and the Tournament MOP in the same year since WKU's Chris Marcus in 2001.
The Mean Green appeared to be on its way to repeating as Sun Belt Conference Tournament champions, after breaking a 52-all tie game with seven-unanswered points to go on top 59-52 with 1:42 remaining. Josh White had a hand in all seven points, as he assisted on a basket by Kedrick Hogans, fed Shannon Shorter for a three pointer, and then scored on a layup to put NT on top by seven.
Trailing 59-52, Bozeman sank a pair of free throws to bring UALR within five, and then junior D'Andre Williams picked White's pocket at midcourt and drew a foul on the play. Williams knocked down both of his free throws following the steal, and then sank two more moments later to make it a one-point ballgame, 59-58.
With its lead down to one, White came through for North Texas again, delivering a deep three pointer from the wing on the ensuing possession to put the Mean Green on top 62-58 with 17.6 seconds remaining. The Trojans answered immediately, as senior Matt Mouzy came off a screen and delivered a three pointer off an assist from Bozeman to make it a 62-61 contest with 7 seconds to go.
NT's Tristan Thompson was fouled after NT got the ball back, but the First Team All-SBC selection made just 1-of-2 free throws to set up Bozeman's heroics. Bozeman pushed the ball up the floor and created some space on Shorter before letting the game-winner fly.
"I couldn't be more proud of these guys, the five seniors in particular coming off the kind of year that we had last year," said UALR head coach Steve Shields. "I have said numerous times along the way, these guys have handled adversity in a very positive way. We have lost some close games and bounced back in practice with good energy, and that is the thing I am most proud of with this team. Not to get too philosophical, but the thing I think you learn from athletics is how to deal with adversity in a positive light, and I feel certain these guys will move forward and be very successful in life."
Freshman Gus Leeper was the only other Trojan to score in double figures, totaling 10 points and two blocks by going 4-of-8 from the field and 2-for-2 at the foul line. Bozeman was joined on the SBC All-Tournament team by senior Alex Garcia-Mendoza, who finished with seven points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
The Trojans limited North Texas to a .404 field goal percentage on the night, including a 10-of-30 effort in the second half (33.3 pct.). White led the Mean Green with 17 points off 7-of-12 shooting and five assists, while George Odufuwa added a 10-point, 17-rebound double-double in the losing effort. Thompson finished with 15 points for the Mean Green, 10 of which came in the first half, but made just 4-of-12 field goal attempts.
UALR shot just 40.0 percent from the field on the night and was outrebounded by 14 (40-to-26), but racked up 14 assists against a season-low five turnovers, and converted 15-of-16 free-throw attempts. Williams and freshman Chuck Guy combined for eight assists against zero turnovers in the win.
UALR and North Texas played to a 32-all standstill at the break, despite early foul trouble for Williams and Bozeman. Williams picked up his second foul 6:31 into the game, and Bozeman was whistled for his second personal with 9:31 left to play and went to the bench for the remainder of the first half.
Bozeman, who came into the game averaging 22.7 points per game in the Sun Belt Tournament, was held to four points over 11-first half minutes. UALR got a boost from its bench in the first half, as junior Tramar Sutherland scored six points off 3-for-4 shooting and Guy racked up four points and four assists.
UALR now awaits Selection Sunday to find out where it will be headed.