Late Comeback Effort Comes Up Short as Trojans Falls to Middle Tennessee, 66-61

Courtesy University of Arkansas at Little Rock Athletics Department

LITTLE ROCK – UALR (15-12, 9-7 SBC) was able to trim its deficit to four with 1:17 left in regulation and pulled as close as three on a trey by freshman Kemy Osse with four seconds left, but Middle Tennessee (23-4, 15-1 SBC) went 8-for-8 from the foul line over the final minute to hold on for the 66-61 victory Saturday night at the Jack Stephens Center. The loss was just UALR’s third home defeat of the season, and marked just the second time this year UALR fell when holding its opponent below 70 points.

The Trojans forced the Blue Raiders into 21 turnovers and limited Middle Tennessee to just 40.8 percent shooting from the field. However, UALR shot just 39.3 percent from the floor, committed 17 turnovers of its own and connected on just 59.1 percent of its foul shots (13-of-22). The Blue Raiders hit 24-of-29 free throws on the night.

Sophomores Michael Javes and Ben Dillard led the Trojans with 12 points apiece. Javes added three blocked shots to increase his career total to 75 and move into a tie with Gilbert Maxwell (1979-81) for sixth place on UALR’s all-time blocks list.

Freshman John Gillon added nine points, seven of which came after halftime, and came up with three steals. Classmate Josh Hagins scored all seven of his points after intermission. Junior Leroy Isler added eight points and four rebounds. Junior Will Neighbour grabbed game-high eight boards.

Marcos Knight led Middle Tennessee with 15 points. Bruce Massey and Raymond Cintron each scored 11, and Kerry Hammonds chipped in 10 to give the Blue Raiders four players in double figures.

Trailing by double digits for most of the second half, UALR cut its deficit to nine on a Hagins three pointer with 3:42 to play, then trimmed the margin to six on a trey by Gillon just 32 seconds later. A pair of free throws by Cintron pushed MT’s lead back to eight. But after Isler made the first of two free throws, the miss on his second attempt was rebounded and put back by Neighbour to make it a five-point game with 2:00 to play.

Gillon made one of two at the line to get the Trojans within four with 1:17 on the clock, but Cintron again responded with a pair of made free throws to push MT’s lead back out to 58-52. Javes then made one of two at the line for UALR, and then it was Knight’s turn to knock down a pair of freebies for the Blue Raiders. Hagins beat a pair of MT defenders to the rim to make it 60-55 with 32 seconds remaining, but a Knight dunk on a run-out all appeared to seal it for Middle Tennessee. Trailing by seven, Osse scored off an offensive rebound to get UALR’s deficit to five, but Cintron again knocked down 2-of-2 to keep Middle Tennessee up by seven.

On UALR’s next possession, Gillon was fouled and made his first free throw before intentionally missing the second. Osse secured the rebound and connected on a deep three pointer from the top of the key with two seconds remaining, but any hopes of a UALR comeback were dashed when Cintron completed his perfect 8-for-8 night from the foul line by making two with just over a second to play.

Both teams combined for 49 fouls between them on the night.

UALR trailed 28-18 following a first half that saw both teams commit 12 turnovers each and combine to shoot 31.9 percent from the floor. Middle Tennessee shot 39.1 percent (9-of-23) but knocked down 9-of-12 free throws, while UALR finished the half shooting 25.0 percent from the floor (6-of-24) and hit 5-of-6 at the line.

The Trojans started the game with a 2-0 lead following a finish in the lane by Isler, and led 6-3 after another strong finish by the Brooklyn, N.Y.-native at the 16:06 mark. Middle Tennessee provided a solid answer, rattling off nine-straight points to go up 14-8 on a couple free throws by Knight with 9:20 left in the half. MT went up 10 on an old-fashioned three-point play by Massey with 5:59 on the clock and grew its lead as large as 12 on three separate occasions over the final five minutes. After Gillon knocked down two free throws with just under a minute in the half, Knight scored the half’s final bucket with 31 seconds left to make it 28-18 heading into the locker rooms.

UALR outscored MT 24-to-18 in points in the paint, and 21-to-11 in points off turnovers. The Blue Raiders led 23-to-16 in bench scoring.

Next, UALR hits the state of Florida for a pair of road games. The Trojans play at FIU on Thursday, Feb. 21, and then take on Florida Atlantic on Saturday in Boca Raton.

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