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Arkansas State (18-10) at Arkansas-Little Rock (16-14)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 2, 8 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Jack Stephens Center (5,600) -- Little Rock, Arkansas. Television: None. Home Record: ASU 13-2, UALR 12-3. Away Record: ASU 5-8, UALR 3-10. Neutral Record: ASU 0-0, UALR 1-1. Conference Record: ASU 12-7, UALR 10-9. Series Record: Arkansas State leads, 47-28.
GAME NOTES: The Sun Belt Conference closes out its regular season on Saturday night, as the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans welcome the Arkansas State Red Wolves to the Jack Stephens Center.
ASU's impressive season has resulted in an 18-10 overall record, and it has clinched the SBC West Division title for the second time in the last three seasons with a 12-7 league mark, sewing up the No. 2 seed and a bye in next week's conference tournament. The Red Wolves had been winners of four straight games heading into Thursday night's bout with North Texas, but they fell on the wrong side of a 74-50 decision.
UALR defeated Louisiana on Thursday, 77-68, to snap a season-long, four-game losing streak. The Trojans were once in contention for the SBC West crown, but their recent slide prevented that dream, and at 10-9 in the league, they could finish anywhere for fourth to sixth place depending on Saturday's results.
ASU has beaten its intrastate rival in two straight games, including a convincing 86-62 decision at home on Feb. 14, as it extended its lead in the all-time series to 47-28.
The Red Wolves fell behind by 10 points at the half in their latest game and things only got worse after intermission, as they went on to lose by 24. It was an awful shooting night for ASU, as it made a mere 25 percent of its field goal attempts, including a ridiculous 1-of-23 from 3-point territory, and only a solid 15-of-17 showing at the free-throw line saved it from further embarrassment. One player able to break free from his teammates' struggles was Marcus Hooten, who shot 8-of-14 from the field for 18 points. Ed Townsel added 14 points off the bench, but did so on just 4-of-12 shooting from the floor. ASU's last performance was more the exception than the rule this season, as it averages 69.0 ppg while allowing 62.3 ppg for the SBC's second-best scoring margin of +6.7. Townsel isn't an especially strong shooter (.380), but he still leads the team with 13.5 ppg. Brandon Peterson is a force in the paint with 10.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg and more than a block and a steal per contest, while Trey Finn adds 10.3 ppg to the mix.
The Trojans snapped their skid on Thursday night in a big way, shooting in excess of 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the foul line as they outlasted Louisiana. Will Neighbour was the catalyst in the win, logging his fifth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds, while also swatting away three shots. Ben Dillard and John Gillon both took advantage of extended playing time off the bench with 13 points apiece, while Josh Hagins brought 14 points and seven boards to the table in the balanced effort. On the season, UALR has failed to stand out at either end of the court, although it barely boasts a positive scoring margin by outscoring opponents, 66.5 ppg to 66.4 ppg. Neighbour is dependable in the frontcourt, shooting 45 percent from the field for 11.0 ppg to go along with 7.0 rpg and 1.0 bpg. While no one else nets in double figures on a nightly basis, the Trojans depend on a deep rotation, with seven others averaging between 4.8 and 9.8 ppg.
ASU has clearly been the more impressive team this season, but with the No. 2 seed in next week's SBC tourney locked up, it could try to conserve its energy in this one. Emotions will be running high for the UALR seniors in what will be their final game at home, and that should be enough to propel it to victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Arkansas-Little Rock 68, Arkansas State 65
03/02 10:39:01 ET