Whatever was going on in the first half of Saturday’s game, UALR will take it. The Trojans held on to first place in the Sun Belt Conference’s West Division with an 88-76 victory over Florida International at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock.
What was different?
- UALR junior Michael Javes went 5 of 7 from the field and 5 of 5 at the free throw line.
- Javes was dunking the ball with authority around the rim.
- UALR seemingly couldn’t miss from anywhere on the court. The Trojans made 59 percent of their field goals and 86 percent of their free throws.
- And when Stetson Billings broke his scoring slump, this looked like a special day.
And it was. UALR breezed to a 20-point lead and then coasted throughout the second half for their second consecutive victory.
Javes finished with 15 points, sharing the team high with Will Neighbour, who made 7 of 9 field goals and added 7 rebounds. James White added 14 points, including a tomahawk dunk in the second half. Ben Dillard had 11 and Josh Hagins 10 points and 7 assists.
It wasn’t perfect. Against FIU’s Fayetteville style pressure, UALR committed 21 turnovers. But the Trojans also forced 22 FIU turnovers and won rebounding 29-25.
It didn’t start out so great. UALR fell behind 8-2 early and seemed like they’d have issues vs. the FIU zone. But Neighbour and Javes quickly changed that. UALR played the high-low between the two to perfection and FIU was forced to foul Javes. And Javes made his free throws to keep it close early.
In fact, Neighbour (6) and Javes (11) had all of UALR’s points until Hagins’ layup with 11:35 left gave UALR a 19-16 lead. It came as part of a 16-0 run that ended on a pair of free throws by Gus Leeper for a 31-16 lead.
UALR continued to pour it on, taking a 51-33 lead with 40 seconds left in the half on a three-pointer by Dillard. Another Dillard three-pointer with 18 minutes left in the second half gave UALR its largest lead at 59-39.
UALR coasted from there in spite of a FIU rally that saw the Golden Panthers cut the lead to 82-72 with 3:58 left. But UALR responded with good ball movement that ended with a Neighbour pas to White for a layup and FIU never got any closer.