Troy did it to perfection, getting UALR senior Will Neighbour a couple of quick fouls. His replacement was junior Gus Leeper. And Leeper then picked up a couple of fouls. That meant UALR had to log a lot of minutes without two of their three bigs – James White being the other.
So what should we expect tonight as UALR travels to Western Kentucky at 7 p.m. at E.A. Diddle Arena? You can likely expect the Hilltoppers to attack Neighbour, White and Leeper and try to put two of the three on the bench for an extended period of time.
The fact of the matter for UALR is that they’ve played very few meaningful minutes this season without two of the three consisting of Neighbour, White and Leeper. When Leeper picked up his second foul, UALR tried freshman Maurius Hill at the 4 and White at the 5. UALR then went with freshman Mareik Isom at the 4. When White had to go out, UALR went with Hill and Isom for a few minutes.
Hill and Isom may very well turn out to be great players at UALR. But right now, UALR struggles to both score and prevent scoring when they are in the game. UALR scores 1.51 points per minute with Hill in the game and 1.69 points per minute with Isom in. Those numbers rank 13th and ninth on the team. Defensively, UALR gives up 1.94 points per minute with Hill in and 1.88 points per minute with Isom in. Those numbers rank 12th and 11th on the roster.
That’s not completely unexpected from freshman. But it underscores the importance of keeping Neighbour (tied 6th defensively, tied 2nd offensively), White (3rd defensively, tied 7th offensively) and Leeper (1st defensively, tied 2nd offensively) on the court as much as possible. Clearly, UALR can survive with Leeper backing up Neighbour and White. But, for now, the lack of depth is catching up with UALR.
Expect WKU to attack the paint tonight for two reasons. The perception was that they shot way too many three-pointers last Thursday in a home loss to Georgia State. And the other, to try and expose UALR’s lack of depth on the inside.
UALR has gotten off to back to back slow starts.
“It’s very concerning when you start back-to-back games without an edge. If you keep doing that, eventually it is going to pop you. You can only dig yourself out of a hole so many times,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said. “That’s on me.”
We still don’t know the status of junior point guard J.T. Thomas. He participated in at least some of warmups for Saturday’s game against Troy. But he was back in sweats during the game. He has not played since the fourth game of the season.
KING PRIAM’S KEYS
Set the Alarm: UALR has not had good starts in three of its four Sun Belt Conference games so far. WKU is coming off an embarrassing performance in their last home game vs. Georgia State. Both teams should be keyed up from the tip. UALR needs to set the tone early to have a chance.
Turning Point: UALR has an average turnover margin of -0.4 per game. WKU’s is -0.5. They are virtually the same. The team winning turnover margin likely wins this game.
Jumping Josh: I don’t have the numbers figured up to justify this, but it just seems like UALR plays better when sophomore Josh Hagins plays better. Last week wasn’t one of his better weeks. He was suspended on Thursday and suffered some suspension hangover on Saturday. Getting Hagins involved will be key tonight.
WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS?
Western Kentucky is a 7.5-point favorite tonight. The biggest line UALR has overcome to win this season was the 4.5 points at Texas-Arlington.