UALR beats Middle Tennessee, advances to first Sun Belt Championship game since 1996
BURN THE HORSE
It’s been 15 years since the teardrop. UALR will finally get an opportunity to make amends tonight.
A tired UALR team weathered some dry spells and held the lead nearly start-to finish in a 65-56 victory over Middle Tennessee in the semifinals of the Sun Belt Tournament at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.
UALR advances to its first Sun Belt Tournament championship game since 1996, when New Orleans’ last second teardrop knocked the Trojans and Derek Fisher out of an NCAA berth. Derek’s mom, Annette, was among the UALR fans in attendance on Monday night as the Trojans received 25 points from Solomon Bozeman and 19 from D’Andre Williams to earn the victory.
Bozeman didn’t get many open looks, but Middle Tennessee couldn’t guard him without fouling. He made 19 of 22 free throws. But Williams was the difference maker all game. He made 7 of 10 field goals and had two huge steals. He also converted a late driving layup as UALR held on.
Sun Belt Conference
D'Andre Williams drives to the basket
to convert a huge second-half layup.
“D’Andre had a great game today. He is like our rock. He is down for the team,” Bozeman said. “Most people think that he can’t score because he doesn’t shoot, but he showed everyone tonight he is a great scorer. He pressures the ball. He is always talking. He does all the little things a team needs.”
UALR finished fifth in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division, but has rallied to win three-straight in the postseason tournament. UALR has also clinched an above .500 season for the third time in four years.
“This group of guys sits on their ego. We have a different guy on every different night,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said. “We showed some real courage tonight. Showed some toughness against a very good basketball team.”
UALR made only two three-pointers for the second consecutive night, but fought Middle Tennessee to a stalemate at the free throw line. UALR was 25 of 31 to Middle Tennessee’s 26 of 36. UALR had only 12 turnovers to Middle Tennessee’s 20.
“I told our team on this particular night Little Rock was more physical, shared the ball better, pressured us,” Middle Tennessee Coach Kermit Davis said. “I thought their guards were outstanding tonight.”
UALR took control of the game midway through the first half and led 27-19 at halftime.
The lead quickly reached 10 in the second half before Middle battled back. But the Trojans didn’t give up the lead.
With a 40-39 lead, Montrell Thornton hit 1 of 2 free throws and Middle Tennessee’s J.T. Sulton did the same for a 41-40 score. After a missed jump shot by Bozeman, the Blue Raiders had a chance for the lead. But Thornton started a fast break with a blocked shot. Matt Mouzy ran the floor and converted the layup for a 43-40 lead.
Again Middle Tennessee cut the lead to 43-42, but Thornton scored on a dunk after a slick pass by Mouzy for a three-point lead.
After a Middle Tennessee miss, Mouzy faked a shot, took a dribble and hit a 15 footer for a 47-42 lead with 5:41 to play.
After Middle Tennessee hit 1 of 2 free throws, they fouled Bozeman. Davis was then called for a technical foul and Bozeman went to the line and made all four free throws for a 51-43 lead.
UALR then made enough free throws down the stretch to prevent a Middle Tennessee run.
“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,” Shields said. “The seniors were driven and were committed to a great offseason.”