With seven minutes to play and a 13-point lead, UALR cooled off as WKU heated up and eventually claimed the win. Jackson’s buzzer-beater capped the Hilltoppers’ comeback that was aided by UALR making just three field goals in the final eight minutes and missing five of eight free throws in the final 44 seconds.
UALR (12-12, 7-5 Sun Belt Conference) had five players score in double figures including Josh Hagins (20), James White (14), Leroy Isler (13), Ben Dillard (11) and Mareik Isom (11), but WKU (16-7, 8-3) made 12 3-point baskets to help narrow the gap.
After the Trojans’ huge 15-0 run was erased by an 18-5 run by the Hilltoppers and the game was knotted at 73-73, White slammed home his second dunk of the evening to give his team a two-point lead with 103 seconds to play. Dillard then went 1 of 2 from the free-throw line and Hagins followed suit, making it a 77-73 advantage for the home team with only 11 seconds left on the clock. But in that span, Isom also missed two free throws.
A 3-pointer from Brandon Harris brought WKU back within one at 77-76 with five seconds to play, and Hagins got fouled when the Trojans inbounded the ball next. He made just one free throw to put the Trojans ahead 78-76, but Jackson nailed his 3-pointer from the left wing as time expired.
Besides his 14 points, White led UALR with nine rebounds and nearly earned a double-double. In addition to his career-high 20 points, Hagins had a game-high seven assists and also added a game-high three blocks. DeVonte Smith added five assists of his own. UALR shot an impressive 7 of 10 from long range and was over 50 percent from the field at 24 of 46, but the Hilltoppers made the same number of total baskets and had five more 3-pointers.
The final score was much closer than it appeared it was going to be midway through the half when the Trojans went on their 15-0 run and brought the crowd to its feet.
In a game that was tight the entire way to that point, the Trojans finally got some separation on that run that only lasted four and a half minutes. Things began to go the Trojans’ way just after coach Steve Shields earned a technical foul and UALR went behind 55-53.
That technical seemed to fire up the team, as four consecutive made free throws were followed by Isler rattling home a 3-pointer from the left wing early in the run and causing the Hilltoppers to take a timeout down 60-55. But after the timeout, Hagins completed a steal with a full-court layup on a spin move. The Trojans got a steal from Isom on WKU’s next shot, and White slammed home a monster dunk in transition. After another WKU timeout, White stuffed a shot and earned Hagins a second transition layup, putting the lead at 11 for UALR.
When the run finally ended with about eight minutes to play after two Isler free throws, UALR had gone from a two-point deficit to a 13-point lead at 68-55. All told, the run featured two UALR blocks, a steal, four defensive rebounds and three WKU turnovers in just over four minutes.
But that run was far from the end of the game. The Hilltoppers scored 18 of the next 23 points, tying the contest at 73-73 with 1:45 to play and setting up their come-from-behind victory.
Way back in the first half, the Trojans had a small advantage in the early going. The team took a 10-5 lead when Dillard drained a 3-pointer just six minutes into the game. But from there, the Hilltoppers controlled much of the rest of the half. WKU scored seven of the next eight points to go ahead 12-11, and they extended their lead for the rest of the period.
Thanks to an impressive 7-of-15 performance from behind the arc and a 17-13 edge on the glass, the visitors led by as many as 10 points with 3:31 to play.
UALR closed out the half strong, though, narrowing the gap to just four points at the break. Isler hit two free throws, Hagins had a 3-pointer and two free throws and Smith added two from the line over the final three minutes to make it a 36-32 lead for WKU at halftime.
The Trojans return to action on Thursday at Louisiana, playing the Ragin’ Cajuns at 7:05 p.m.
(Courtesy: UALR Sports Information)
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