Minus starters, UALR holds off Texas State at home

Hours before tipoff, UALR sophomore guard Josh Hagins Tweeted: “No Excuses.” No doubt that was the message delivered by UALR Coach Steve Shields in the pregame on Thursday.

There were none needed.

Playing without three starters, UALR held off Texas State 69-64 at the Jack Stephens Center in Little Rock. UALR improves to 10-9 overall and 5-2 in Sun Belt Conference play.

The Trojans played without Leroy Isler, who was suspended before the game after apparently getting ejected in Saturday’s game at Georgia State. UALR was also without James White, who was out with an ankle injury, and J.T.  Thomas, who has been out since the fifth game of the season. Isler, White and Thomas have started every game they’ve appeared in this season.

It forced UALR to play four guards much of the night, piecing together lineups to keep the Trojans in the game. Will Neighbour led UALR with 21 points, making 9 of 11 free throws.

But it was the supporting cast that made the biggest difference. DeVonte Smith scored a career-high 17 points, making 6 of 6 field goals, 2 of 2 three-pointers and 3 of 3 free throws. He also added 4 rebounds a steal and 2 assists without a turnover in his 37 minutes.

And Gus Leeper added 11 points in his 15 minutes of play.

Three-point defense wasn’t an issue with Texas State making just 3 of 15 on the night. But with a lack of size and depth on the inside, the Trojans had issues stoping the Bobcats all night. That turned the game into a back-and-forth shootout.

UALR shot 46.8 percent while Texas State shot 48.9 percent. Texas State held a 30-25 rebound advantage.

The game was tight throughout the first 30 minutes of play before UALR made a run to gain the first breathing room of the night. UALR went with a bigger lineup in the second half, starting both Leeper and Neighbour together.

UALR opened up a 58-52 lead with 5:35 left when Smith hit a three-pointer. Mareik Isom pushed the lead back to 62-54 with a layup with 4:47 left. Neighbour then made two free throws for a 62-54 lead with 3:55 left. That was big because it fouled out Texas State’s Joel Wright.

Smith then put UALR up 65-54 when he stole the ball, scored on a layup and then converted a free throw for the three point play with 2:54 left.

It got a little bit interesting in the final seconds but the Trojans held on.