BTH Morning After: Hardest playing team came up short on Thursday

Basketball is sometimes a funny game. The team with the most talent should win, but doesn't always. The team that plays the hardest and overcomes the most odds doesn't always win. The latter happened on Thursday in UALR’s 93-87 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette.

I’ve been around the UALR basketball program for 12 years. The effort by the UALR players last night nearly brought me to tears. I’d dare say it was the best effort I’ve ever seen from UALR basketball players and coaches.

What do they have to show for it? Nothing. Unfortunately, that’s basketball.

“I thought our guys showed a lot of effort, togetherness and courage,” UALR Coach Steve Shields said.

Louisiana-Lafayette was at near full strength and riding a three-game winning streak into last night’s game. They also had Shawn Long and his 20 points and 10 rebounds back in the lineup (he missed the previous meeting with UALR due to suspension). That alone, on paper, should have made Louisiana-Lafayette a huge favorite (and they were at 8.5 points in Las Vegas).

UALR had to play without Will Neighbour (ankle injury) and his 16.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game averages. Also missing was Leroy Isler (hamstring injury) and his 6.7 points and 3.2 rebounds. Isler would also be UALR’s best matchup defender. Of course, UALR lost starting point guard J.T. Thomas to a season-ending injury a while back.

It was even worse than that. Mareik Isom figured to get the start in place of Neighbour. But Isom was also injured. He didn’t start but ended up giving 17 minutes. Then Kemy Osse went down with a knee injury in the first half. He was being re-evaluated last night but the fear is that he has been lost for the season as well.
That left UALR with nine available players. And seemingly all nine were in foul trouble all night long. Eventually, five Trojans fouled out (Maurius Hill, Stetson Billings, James White, Ben Dillard and Gus Leeper). The remaining four players finished the final 10 seconds of double overtime for the Trojans.
And White had a subpar game mostly due to foul trouble. He finished with 5 points and 2 rebounds in 18 minutes. But he only had one field goal attempt the entire night.

Oh and by the way. Louisiana-Lafayette didn’t have a single player foul out. Officials whistled nine more fouls on UALR than the Ragin’ Cajuns. There’s no way UALR should have been within 30 points of Louisiana-Lafayette, which by the way has two potential first team all-Sun Belt players in Long and Elfrid Payton.

In today’s Daily Advertiser, ULL Coach Bob Marlin said he thought Osse’s injury “gave those guys some juice.”

Seriously? Juice? It put them in what should have been an insurmountable hole. That’s where the effort put forward by UALR’s players and coaches should be recognized.

Josh Hagins finished with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. He seemingly took every shot down the stretch as all potential scorers continued to foul out. By the way, after coming in at the four-minute mark, he played the final 46 minutes.

Hill had 15 points and 5 rebounds after scoring only 30 points the entire season coming in. Billings had 5 points and 11 rebounds. DeVonte Smith had 16 points.

UALR held Long to 7 points and 3 rebounds, well below his average. And the Trojans held a 44-36 advantage in rebounding, 19-9 in offensive.

“We felt like we needed to win the glass and we won it by 8 tonight,” Shields said. “Our guys played hard. They played together.”

Marlin summed it up by saying, “We’ll take it. Four in a row.”

Unfortunately, despite their effort UALR has now lost three in a row.

The Daily Advertiser reported that Kemy Osse tore a patella tendon. UALR Coach Steve Shields wouldn’t confirm that postgame.

“Not exactly sure what that is. The doctor that came in and looked at it said it needed to be re-evaluated. We’ll get it re-evaluated tonight and see where we go from here,” Shields said.

We don’t know the status of Neighbour or Isom for Saturday’s game at Louisiana-Monroe. Neither’s status was discussed postgame.

It ultimately didn’t matter because ULL hit two free throws at that point to make it a six point game, but UALR finished the final 10 seconds with only four players – DeVonte Smith, Josh Hagins, Andrew Poulter and Mareik Isom. UALR Coach Steve Shields said it’s the first time he can remember having to do that.

“There were a lot of fouls called in this game. Seventy-three is a lot of free throws. And when you have a lot of free throws you’re going to have foul trouble,” he said.

Rebounds: We hoped UALR could just keep rebounding close. Instead, the Trojans dominated the glass. Grade: A.

From the start: We had no idea who was going to be missing from the UALR lineup. Still, a good start seemed necessary. Instead, UALR went down 19 points early. Grade: C.

Threes under 35: UALR needed to keep ULL under 35 percent from the three-point line. ULL finished 8 of 26 for 30 percent. Grade: A.

If you were gutsy enough to bet on UALR, you did get the win in Las Vegas.