But a slow start doomed a valiant comeback in a 79-70 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La.
UALR (8-7, 2-2 Sun Belt) has lost three consecutive games and falls into a three-way tie for first place in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division with Louisiana-Lafayette (6-9, 2-2) and Arkansas State (2-2).
"I didn't think effort was a problem tonight," UALR Coach Steve Shields said. "We were very good on the road last year in conference play, going 6-2. We've talked a lot with this young team about that. It's not easy but it's a learning process and it doesn't happen overnight.
"We struggle at times to get consecutive stops [on defense]. You can't win like that on the road."
UALR wasted a 17-point, 14-rebound effort from junior Will Neighbour and a career-high 14 points from freshman Josh Hagins.
UALR also wasted a solid effort in rebounding (44-32 advantage), turnovers (10) and free throws (24-30).
Those would have been winning numbers if not for the start of the game. UALR was down 4-0 before it ever got the ball into Louisiana-Lafayette’s half of the court. And the Trojans were down 8-0 before a Neighbour free throw.
The lead ballooned to 24-11 after a three-pointer from Alan-Michael Thompson with 11:33 left in the half. Then UALR took control of the game. The Trojans finished the half on a 26-10 run to take a 37-34 lead into halftime. A three-pointer and two free throws by Hagins (the free throws after a technical foul) gave UALR its first lead of the game.
But it didn’t last long into the second half. Bryant Mbamalu’s basket with 18:29 left gave the Cajuns a 38-37 lead. The game was tight over the next six minutes before a three-pointer by Mbamalu gave Louisiana-Lafayette a 49-45 lead. A layup by Elfrid Payton pushed the lead to 51-45 with 11:55 left.
UALR just couldn’t close the gap from there. Each time they’d cut into the lead, Louisiana-Lafayette would hit a big shot at the other end to extend it.
A three-pointer from Hagins with 4:53 left cut the lead to 64-61. But Mbamalu came right back with a jumper for a 66-61 lead. And when UALR couldn’t convert on a couple of possessions, Shawn Long’s putback of his own miss made it 68-61 with 2:32 left.
UALR was forced to foul late but couldn’t close the gap.