LITTLE ROCK -
Shannon Shorter scored a game-high 24 points to lead North Texas (19-10, 8-8) to a 72-69 victory over the UALR men's basketball team (15-16, 7-9) at the Jack Stephens Center on Tuesday night. The loss to NT means UALR will enter the Sun Belt Tournament as the No. 5-seed out of the West Division and will take on South Alabama in the first round on Saturday, March 5 at 9 p.m.
NT senior guard Josh White was inactive on Tuesday night due to a foot injury, snapping a string of 114-consecutive games played, and Shorter came up big in his absence. He played all 40 minutes in the win, finishing with team highs of 24 points and seven rebounds while going 8-of-11 from the field and 8-of-10 at the foul line. Tristan Thompson added 15 points for the Mean Green, and Dominique Johnson chipped in 12 points and six assists while also playing all 40 minutes.
UALR and North Texas went back-and-forth throughout the entire second half, with neither team leading by more than four points until the Mean Green took a 69-63 lead with 15.7 seconds remaining. In a game featuring 13 tie scores and 16 lead changes, North Texas prevailed in the end behind a .477 field goal percentage and a 28-of-33 effort at the free-throw line (84.8 percent).
The Trojans shot just 37.1 percent on the night (7-of-22 from three-point range), but played to a +7 rebounding margin (38-to-31) and grabbed a season-high 19 offensive rebounds. Junior Eric Kibi led all players with eight rebounds and grabbed five offensive boards to help UALR to a 21-to-4 edge in second-chance points.
"We can't give up 53 percent from the field in the second half and put them on the foul line 23 times and expect to have any success," said UALR head coach Steve Shields. "I think what it came down to was that we didn't get the ball moving as well as we needed to. We settled for some shots that we aren't real fond of and we didn't defend. We didn't keep them off the foul line in the second half."
Junior D'Andre Williams and Gus Leeper totaled 11 points apiece off the bench to pace the UALR offense. Leeper went 4-of-7 from the field and 2-for-2 from three-point range on his way to a season-high 11 points, and added six rebounds and two blocks over 19 minutes.
North Texas held a seven-point lead, 22-15, with 6:59 remaining in the first half after a quick 6-0 spurt, but the Trojans rattled off a 14-2 run over the next 5:15 to take a 29-24 lead. Williams and senior Alex Garcia-Mendoza scored six points apiece during the run, with Garcia-Mendoza capping off the rally with a steal and a fastbreak layup with 1:40 to play.
The Trojans led 31-26 after a layup by senior Solomon Bozeman, but North Texas closed out the half with four-unanswered points in the final minute to make it a one-point game at the break, 31-30. North Texas outshot the Trojans 43.5 percent to 35.5 percent in the first half, but UALR played to a +3 margin on the glass (19-to-16) and turned its 10 offensive rebounds into 10 second-chance points.
The two teams traded buckets for the majority of the second half, with UALR taking its final lead of the night, 61-60, after Kibi made 1-of-2 foul shots with 4:57 remaining. North Texas took the lead for good at 63-61 on a bucket by Shorter, who sank 2-fo-3 foul shots moments later after drawing contact on a three-point attempt to put the Mean Green ahead by four, 67-63.
Down by four, UALR got the ball back with 36.1 seconds remaining, but the Trojans missed two three-point attempts on the ensuing possession. North Texas corralled the rebound on UALR's second miss, and Johnson sank both free throws on the other end to give the Mean Green its largest lead of the second half, 69-63, with 15.7 seconds left. UALR hit two three pointers over the final 7.9 seconds, but North Texas went 3-for-4 at the line in the closing seconds to hold off the Trojans.
UALR will face South Alabama in the first round of the Sun Belt Tournament on Saturday, March 5 at 9 p.m. The winner will advance to take on Arkansas State on Sunday, March 6 at 8:45 p.m.