ARLINGTON, Texas — A fast start by UT Arlington, aided by its best shooting half of the season, put Little Rock in an early hole, and it was one the Trojans were never able to climb out of, falling 82-73 to the Mavericks Saturday afternoon at the College Park Center.
The loss drops Little Rock to 7-12 on the year and 2-4 in Sun Belt Conference play as the Trojans are still seeking their first road league victory of the year. The win was the fourth-straight for UT Arlington, improving to 8-11 on the year and 4-2 in the Sun Belt.
Free throw shooting helped UT Arlington put this one away as the Mavericks made 34 of their 39 free throw attempts. The Trojans ended the game shooting 44.4 percent from the floor and 41.2 percent from three, connecting on 18 of their 27 free throw attempts.
Markquis Nowell led the way for Little Rock with 21 points, going 8-of-13 from the floor and 4-for-7 from three-point range. Rayjon Tucker added 15 points, scoring 10 in the second half, with three rebounds while Kamani Johnson came up big inside, finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds.
Deondre Burns added nine points off the bench with five rebounds while Nikola Maric added eight points and eight rebounds. Kris Bankston notched six points off the bench for Little Rock, adding four boards of his own.
Anticipating another defensive struggle, Little Rock saw a different emphasis from UT Arlington as the Mavericks came out firing early and often, scoring the first six points of the game to build an early lead.
Little Rock was able to rally back to tie the game on a pair of occasions, the first at 8-8 and again at 11-11 off a three from Tucker. Another three, this time from Nowell, brought Little Rock to within three at 25-22, but a 6-0 run by the Mavericks helped UT Arlington break out to a nine-point advantage at 31-22 with 7:49 remaining.
Foul trouble began to prove costly down the stretch of the first half as the Mavericks knocked down 16 of their 18 free throw attempts in the first half, pushing the Little Rock deficit to 12 at 44-32 with 3:54. The Trojans were to close the gap down the stretch of the first half, trailing by 11 at 49-38 at intermission.
In the first half, UT Arlington shot 53.8% from the floor and 62.5% from three point range, significantly higher than the Mavericks' season averages coming into the contest. Points in the paint were decidedly in UTA's favor as well in the opening 20 minutes, holding a 14-4 edge.
The Mavericks slowed the pace in the second half as their hot shooting cooled off, allowing the Trojans to get back to within seven off a three from Nowell at 52-45. But Maverick free throws and blown opportunities inside for Little Rock prevented the Trojans from cutting into the lead, with UT Arlington pushing its advantage back to 14 at 61-47 with 11:59 to go.
Little Rock's defensive pressure in the closing minutes frustrated UT Arlington, allowing the Trojans to get to within seven at 70-63 with 3:44 remaining.
But the Trojans couldn't take advantage of some opportunities late in the game and UT Arlington iced the game at the free throw line, handing the Trojans their eighth-straight road loss. The Mavericks improve to 9-5 all-time in the season series.
Little Rock is now hoping some home cooking will prove beneficial as the Trojans return home for three-straight games, beginning Thursday against Coastal Carolina. Tip against the Chanticleers will be at 6:30 p.m. at the Jack Stephens Center.