Missed opportunities, rebounds haunt UALR in opening loss to North Florida

A gaggle of missed opportunities added up on Monday as UALR lost 72-70 to North Florida in its season opener at the Jack Stephens Center.

UALR (0-1) had its final shot in the closing seconds after sophomore James White deflected a rebound off a North Florida player out of bounds. On the inbounds play, sophomore Josh Hagins missed on a three-pointer from the corner and junior J.T. Thomas’ desperation putback at the buzzer was no good as the Trojans came up short.

Hagins led UALR with 14 points. Seniors Will Neighbour and Leroy Isler added 12 points apiece, while freshman Mareik Isom had 11 and junior Gus Leeper 10.

But only one stat really mattered most of the game. North Florida held a 41-29 advantage in rebounds, 14 of which came on the offensive end. UALR’s lack of size other than Neighbour and Leeper was exposed by North Florida in large stretches.

Neighbour, who made 3 of 7 field goals and finished with 4 rebounds, wasn’t able to muscle up much on the inside after re-injuring his shoulder during practice on Saturday. He was considered doubtful for Monday’s game after sitting out Sunday’s practice. But he used a shoulder brace of some sort, masked by a t-shirt, and was able to play 30 minutes.

After shooting 55 percent in the first half, the Trojans shot a woeful 25 percent in the second half. That included 1 of 10 from three-point range.

The game slipped away in the final 10 minutes after a three-point play by Isom gave UALR a 61-57 lead with 7:55 left. Seconds later, Isler picked up his fourth foul and things started to unravel.

Travis Wallace converted a three-point play and then scored on a layup as North Florida took a 62-61 lead. Then after a missed three-pointer by Hagins, North Florida’s Demarcus Daniels made a pair of free throws for a 64-61 UNF lead.

Down 1 with 4:38 left, sophomore Stetson Billings couldn’t convert on a layup. Then North Florida’s Beau Beech baited Isler into his fifth foul.

Still, UALR had a chance in the final minute. Jalen Nesbitt made two free throws for a 72-69 lead and North Florida intentionally fouled Hagins as he brought the ball up the court. Hagins made the first free throw but missed the second. In the scramble, White knocked the rebound off a North Florida player to give UALR a final chance.