|Updated: 1/25 8:33 am
||Published: 1/25 8:32 am
LITTLE ROCK – UALR (13-9, 7-4 SBC) battled back from a 22-point first-half deficit to capture a 65-62 win over Florida Atlantic (10-11, 5-5 SBC) Thursday night at the Jack Stephens Center. The win improved the Trojans’ home record to 11-1 on the season and keeps UALR in sole possession of first place in the Sun Belt’s West Division.
“You’ve got to give FAU credit,” said head coach Steve Shields. “They came in here with a mindset to take something, and they did in the first half. I think they out-toughed us, they out-played us, they out-coached us in the opening half … But I thought our guys brought an energy level in the second half. We did a better job on the glass. We still didn’t guard like we’re capable of, but you have to give credit to them for that too.”
Junior Will Neighbour posted his fourth double-double of the season with a season-high 24 points and 11 rebounds. Neighbour finished the game 7-of-10 from the floor and 8-of-11 from the foul line in 35 minutes of action. Freshman Kemy Osse was the only other Trojan to score in double figures, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds.
After trailing by as many as 22 in the first half and 18 on four separate occasions in the second half, the Trojans managed to whittle FAU’s lead down single digits on a couple of free throws by freshman John Gillon with 9:58 remaining. The Trojans got their deficit to six on free throws by Neighbour and freshman James White, but FAU answered with two free throws of their own to push their lead back to eight. An Osse jumper with 5:17 left got UALR within four, and after FAU’s Dragan Sekelja made one of two at the other end, sophomore Taggart Lockhart went to the line and knocked down two to make it a three-point game. UALR was unable to get a stop on the other end, however, as Sekelja broke free for a layup to put the Owls back up five with 4:10 on the clock. Two more free throws and a soft baseline jumper by Neighbour over UALR’s next two possessions made it a one-point game, and after Greg Gantt made one of two free throws for FAU on the other end, freshman Josh Hagins’ jumper from the top of the key tied the score at 60-all with just under two minutes left.
Following a missed jumper by the Owls’ Stefan Moody, Neighbor secured the defensive rebound and drew a foul on UALR’s end of the court. The Grayshott, England-native made both free throws to give UALR its first lead of the game, 62-60, with 1:37 remaining. But it wouldn’t last long, as FAU scored on its next possession thanks to a dish from Gantt to Jordan McCoy under the basket to tie things at 62.
UALR would take the lead for good in its next trip, as a desperation attempt by junior Leroy Isler was rebounded and put back by Osse as the shot clock expired and just 35 seconds left on the game clock, putting the Trojans up two, 64-62. FAU was unable to convert on its next trip down the court, and Gillon made one of two at the line to close out the Trojans’ 11th home victory of the season.
UALR finished the game +4 on the boards (32-to-28), and was able to force FAU into 16 turnovers. The Owls finished the game shooting 51.1 percent from the floor (23-of-45), but UALR was able to make up for it by knocking down 24-of-31 free throws, while the Owls hit just 9-of-19.
Isler scored seven points for the Trojans, but more importantly held Gantt, who came into the game leading the Sun Belt in scoring at 22.5 ppg, to just 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting. Hagins added seven points on 3-of-4 shooting, while sophomore Ben Dillard and freshman James White combined for eight points off the bench.
UALR’s reserves outscored FAU’s bench, 25-16, and the Trojans led in points off turnovers, 21-14.
The Trojans return to action on Saturday, when they travel to Denton, Texas to take on North Texas at 7 p.m.