7 P.M. TONIGHT
UALR will say goodbye to its only senior today. But I suspect this won’t be the last time we see him at the Jack Stephens Center. His story is one of hard work, perseverance and the ability to put the goals of his team way ahead of his own.
UALR’s lone senior this season is walk-on Ted Crass. He hasn’t even played 30 minutes in his entire UALR career. But in his time here, he’s done as much for the UALR basketball program as anyone who has ever worn the uniform.
Crass gave up playing basketball in high school but found that he still loved to coach the game. And when he went to UALR, he signed on as UALR’s team manager. He quickly rose to head manager, doing whatever was required of him. Sometimes that meant getting to practice hours before the players. It also meant staying way past the time when they went home.
He always had a smile on his face while he was doing it and genuinely seemed to cherish being around the program. He’d arrive at practice early, pick up a basketball and start shooting. He constantly worked on his game, dribbling, shooting, running. And he’d play anybody who was interested in 1 on 1 or 2 on 2. I’ve seen him go toe-to-toe with managers, redshirts and even the all-time leading scorer in UALR women’s basketball history.
Last year, Crass took up boxing. And when UALR Coach Steve Shields heard about it, he made Crass a deal because he didn’t want to see him get hurt. Quit boxing and he’d let Crass start practicing with the team. Crass agreed.
About a month later, Shields surprised Crass on the way to a nationally televised game at Middle Tennessee. Crass was going to be in uniform. He was officially a walk-on.
He only played in one game last season. But he took his role seriously. When I asked him this summer what he hoped to get out of the summer and the season he was clear. He wanted to help develop freshmen point guards Josh Hagins and John Gillon into impact players. And he wanted his team to win a championship.
Down 22 points in a January game to Florida Atlantic, Shields called on Crass for some first-half minutes. That carried over into a passionate halftime speech by the walk-on. UALR rallied to win.
Crass isn’t the most talented basketball player UALR has ever had. But you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has worked harder for UALR. There’s no doubt his coaching career will be a success.
Arkansas State has already wrapped up the West Division championship and No. 2 seed. UALR can still be seeded anywhere from 4th to 6th. A UALR win guarantees at least fifth. Saturday victories by UALR, Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic – all playing at home – would make UALR the 4 seed.
BURN BABY BURN
This is the final Little Rock appearance for capital city native Trey Finn. Finn, who played at Little Rock Parkview, was a long-time UALR commitment before leaving UALR hanging by switching his commitment to Arkansas State on the final weekend before signing day. Finn is 1-2 vs. UALR in Little Rock.
IDES OF MARCH
This marks only the fifth March meeting between UALR and Arkansas State. It’s also the first that wasn’t played on March 6. UALR is 3-2 all-time vs. Arkansas State in March. Two of the five games – all in the Sun Belt Tournament – went to overtime.
BTH KEYS TO VICTORY
Javes your way: Arkansas State dominated both the inside and outside in the first meeting in Jonesboro. UALR’s bigs have to play better tonight. Michael Javes has been a force inside and needs to stay with ASU’s Brandon Peterson, an all-Sun Belt player who was held to 0 points and 0 rebounds on Thursday at North Texas.
Sporty forty: Both teams want to lock the other up defensively. The one who shoots 40 percent likely wins.
Will to win: No doubt ASU will be all over UALR’s Will Neighbour on every UALR possession. If they overplay him, Neighbour needs to make good decisions to get teammates easy baskets. And if they leave him, he’s got to knock down shots like he did on Thursday.
Arkansas State is a one-point favorite in Las Vegas.
Right now we’ve got a dead heat thanks to RTRPI’s skewed score. CBS and TSN will pick the winner:
OmniRankings (17-4): ASU 65, UALR 62
Real Time RPI (23-6): UALR 70, ASU 64
Jeff Sagarin (21-7): ASU 75, UALR 72
The Sports Network (21-7): TBA
CBS Sportsline (19-9): TBA
BTH Average (20-8): ASU 68.0, UALR 68.0