UALR (12-9, 6-4 Sun Belt Conference) remains in first place in the West Division after their first road victory of the season.
“It’s a big one for our guys seeing the way we were on Thursday. We weren’t as tough with the basketball [on Thursday] and didn’t handle adversity in a good way,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said. “I thought we had a very energized, enthusiastic practice [on Friday].”
Freshman Josh Hagins led the way, continuing the solid play he’s shown of late. Hagins finished with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, a steal and only 2 turnovers.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Shields said. “He’s played a lot of minutes and that’s tough for a true freshman. He’s valuing the basketball. Knowing the kind of minutes he’s playing with John Gillon being out, that’s a real positive.”
Leroy Isler added 10 points, while Will Neighbour had 9.
UALR fell behind by as many as seven points in the first half but avoided the extended runs by opponents that have killed them on the road this season. And despite getting outrebounded by 10 points in the first half, UALR stayed close by committing only 3 turnovers and trailed 26-25 at intermission.
UALR had turnovers on four of the first five possessions of the second half, but still seized control of the game thanks to lock-down defense and an offensive spurt by Michael Javes. Javes finished with 8 points and 5 rebounds but had UALR’s first six of the second half.
UALR held Western Kentucky to 28.6 percent shooting in the second half and the Trojans were +5 in rebounding. That was a big change from -11 in the first half.
“We felt like we were guarding the way we needed to guard but we couldn’t get beat by 11 on the boards in the second half,” Shields said.
UALR clung to a narrow lead most of the second half. Western Kentucky cut the lead to 51-47 with 1:35 left after George Fant made 1 of 2 free throws.
UALR answered in a big way when Hagins nailed a three-pointer with 1:09 left, giving the Trojans a 54-47 lead.
Western anwered with two free throws by O’Karo Akamune for a 54-49 score with 43 seconds left and the Hilltoppers set up their press and fouled Taggart Lockhart. He made 1 of 2 free throws for a 55-49 score with 41 seconds left.
UALR then got a defensive stop when T.J. Price missed a three-pointer and Osse grabbed the rebound. UALR then pushed the ball up court with Hagins finding Isler for a reverse layup and a 57-49 lead.
It was UALR’s first victory at Diddle Arena since a 2005 dunk by Darius “Too Tall” Eason was the game winner for the Trojans.
“We’ve got to embrace the way we play now. We have to play with an edge every time we come to the floor,” Shields said. “We’ve got to get on a roll to where we play the right way each time we come to the floor.”