GAME NOTES: With first place in the Sun Belt Conference West Division on the line, the Arkansas State Red Wolves host the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans on Thursday night at the Convocation Center.
UALR has been playing its best basketball of the season in recent weeks, winning four of its last five games to improve to 15-10 overall and 9-5 in league play. The Trojans most recently took down ULM on the road last Thursday, 70-60, and after starting the season 0-7 away from Little Rock, they have now won three consecutive road tilts.
ASU has also won four of its last five contests, the most recent of which being a 67-49 decision at Western Kentucky last Saturday, and it currently sits just a half game behind UALR at 9-6 in the Sun Belt. The Red Wolves, who are 15-9 overall, have played well at home this season, winning 11 of 13 bouts in Jonesboro.
ASU leads the all-time series with its intrastate rival by a 46-28 count, which includes a 27-10 mark in Jonesboro. However, UALR has been victorious in seven of the last 11 matchups.
The Trojans didn't have much of an issue dismissing the league's worst team in their latest game, shooting 49 percent from the field while outrebounding ULM, 34-25, on their way to the double-digit road victory. Josh Hagins tallied 14 points and four assists, while Will Neighbour was solid as well with 11 points and six rebounds. Gus Leeper made the most of his 17 minutes off the bench, netting 12 points and hauling in six boards.
While UALR's scoring offense (67.4 ppg) and scoring defense (65.4 ppg) might seem rather modest, those numbers have allowed it to log the third-best scoring margin in the Sun Belt (+2.0). Neighbour is one of the most trusted forwards in the league, shooting 47.1 percent from the floor for 11.4 ppg while adding 7.0 rpg, 1.0 bpg and 1.3 spg. Although no one else averages in double figures, the Trojans rely on a deep rotation, with eight others scoring between 4.8 and 9.7 ppg.
The Red Wolves shot a respectable 42.3 percent from the field their last time out, including 9-of-20 from 3-point range, but they were able to make easy work of WKU thanks mostly to their outstanding field goal percentage defense (.320). Trey Finn was the catalyst in the victory, shooting 6-of-11 from beyond the arc on his way to a season-high 23 points. Ed Townsel provided energy off the bench with 11 points, while Brandon Peterson tallied nine points and 10 rebounds.
In scoring 68.8 ppg and allowing just 62.7 ppg, ASU boasts a +6.1 scoring margin that ranks below only Middle Tennessee in the conference. It gets most of its backcourt production from Townsel (14.0 ppg) and Finn (10.0 ppg), although neither shoots better than 38 percent from the floor. Peterson is a nightly double-double threat with averages of 10.3 ppg and 9.6 rpg, while Cameron Golden, Marcus Hooten, Raeford Worsham and Kendrick Washington are all invaluable pieces to the rotation, as each scores between 6.5 and 7.5 ppg.
This one is sure to a be a fight from the start, as each team has established itself as a true contender in the Sun Belt. In the end, ASU gets the nod thanks to the decided advantage from playing at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas State 68, Arkansas-Little Rock 65
02/14 10:32:24 ET
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