UALR starts 3-0 in Sun Belt by digging out of hole with defense

In a deep hole, UALR dug itself out at the defensive end.

UALR used a superb second-half defensive effort to rally from an 11-point deficit to beat South Alabama 65-60 on Thursday night at the Jack Stephens Center.

UALR (8-7) improves to .500 on the season while starting Sun Belt Conference play 3-0.

Will Neighbour led UALR with 22 points and 10 rebounds. James Whjite added 13 points.

DeVonte Smith played all 40 minutes at the point guard position, finishing with 7 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and only 1 turnover. Smith was pressed into those minutes after sophomore guard Josh Hagins was suspended for Thursday’s games for something he did in the postgame against Texas-Arlington on Saturday.

UALR held South Alabama to just 20 second-half points. The Jags made just 6 of 31 second-half field goals.

South Alabama started the game 5-6 from three-point range but made only 4 of 28 the rest of the game.
UALR fell behind 49-38 when South Alabama superstar Augustine Rubit hit a three-pointer with 15:48 left.  Then UALR held South Alabama without a point for the next 7 minutes and 49 seconds.

It didn’t come quickly. More than six minutes after Rubit’s three-pointer, UALR still trailed 49-44.

But then the Trojans started to crawl back. Ben Dillard stole the ball and Leroy Isler converted a layup to make it 49-46. Kemy Osse drilled a three-pointer to tie it. Then DeVonte Smith scored on a layup to give UALR a 51-49 lead, its first since the opening minutes.

Hanging on in tight games is becoming a signature of this UALR team and they largely did it to perfection on Thursday. But sometimes this UALR team needs to be pushed to the brink before they respond.

This time that came when South Alabama’s Antoine Allen made two free throws to tie the game 60-60 with 2:41 left. UALR subbed in James White, who was playing with four fouls.

White immediately hit a hook in the lane to give UALR the lead.

UALR had to make a couple of defensive stops down the stretch before Dillard hit 1 of 2 free throws with :31 left to give the Trojans a 63-60 lead. Dillard then made a championship play by stealing the ball back and he was fouled. This time he made both free throws for a 65-60 lead with 16 seconds left. And UALR held on for the victory.