LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — OPENING TIP
After a month on the road, Little Rock returns to the Jack Stephens Center for its Sun Belt Conference home openers. First up is a battle of the Trojans as Little Rock hosts Troy on Thursday, January 10. Thursday's game will be the first of Little Rock's ESPN+ broadcasts for the season with Ben Creighton and U.S. Reed on the call. Live stats are available at TrojanStats.com with Ray Tucker carrying the call live on The Point 94.1 FM.
• Little Rock returns to the Jack Stephens Center for the first time in a month looking end its four-game losing streak.
• Little Rock and Troy meet for the 22nd time overall with Little Rock holding a 12-9 edge in the all-time series against the Alabama Trojans. Troy has won the last three meetings, however.
• Rayjon Tucker leads the Sun Belt Conference in both points per game (21.8) and minutes per game (36:28) and has scored in double digits in each of his first 14 games, including a career-high 36 in the loss at Louisiana on Saturday.
• The Trojans continue to rank as one of the nation's top shooting teams, connecting on 50.0% of its field goal attempts to rank second in the Sun Belt and 15th nationally.
• Three-straight opposing players have notched career-highs against the Trojans. Mac McClung (Georgetown) finished with 38, followed by Daishon Smith's (ULM) 42-point performance and JaKeem Gant's (Louisiana) 45-point game. They are the first players to score 40 points against Little Rock since 1993.
BACK IN THE BELT
The 2018-19 season marks Little Rock's 28th year as a member of the Sun Belt Conference, joining the league in the 1991-92 season. During that stretch, the Trojans have posted a 236-224 (.513) record in conference play, winning the 2016 Sun Belt regular season title to complement Little Rock's five divisional championships. Little Rock and Troy have been Sun Belt Conference foes since the 2005-06 season with Little Rock holding a 12-8 all-time record.
ITS BEEN A WHILE
When Little Rock and Troy tip off Thursday, it will mark the first home game for the Trojans in 30 days, dating back to the December 11th game against Miles College. The 30-day span matches the longest in-season stretch between home games since a similar break during the 1978-79 season when the Trojans played Lincoln (Mo.) on December 16, 1978 before taking on Arkansas State on January 15, 1979.
MAKING IT COUNT
Through the first 15 games of the season, the Trojans are shooting 50.0% from the floor, ranking second in the Sun Belt and 15th nationally. Little Rock has shot better than 50% from the floor in nine of its first 15 contests, highlighted by a 63.8% against Central Arkansas on December 8 . Four different Trojans are shooting at least 50% on the year, led by Kris Bankston's 85.5% shooting percentage (59-of-69), as seven players are averaging at least eight points per game.
Redshirt junior Rayjon Tucker has been a mainstay on the court for Little Rock in 2018-19, averaging 36:28 of playing time to rank first in the Sun Belt and 25th nationally in minutes played. Tucker has played 35 or more minutes in 11 of his 14 games, including a season-high 40 against Southeastern Oklahoma on November 8. Tucker leads the Sun Belt Conference in scoring at 21.6 points per game (ranking 22nd nationally) and ranks among the NCAA leaders in free throw attempts (30th - 106), free throws made (33rd - 78) and total points (39th - 302).
DOUBLE FIGURE TUCKER
Rayjon Tucker has scored in double figures in each of the 14 games he has played in, surpassing the 20-point plateau seven times. His 14-straight games of 10+ points is the fourth-longest steak for the Trojans since the 2000-01 season. Tucker trails Will Neighbor's 19 game streak from November 11, 2013 to January 23, 2014 for third-place and is six games back of both Solomon Bozeman (2010-11) and Stan Blackmon (2000-01) for the longest streak during that span.
Trojan fans have been witnesses to a trio of impressive individual offensive performances this year, seeing three 30-point performances on the year. The latest came Saturday in Louisiana when Rayjon Tuckerrecorded a career-high 36 points, the most for the Trojans since Brandon Freeman's 38-point performance at Florida International in 2005. Tucker added a 33-point performance against Sam Houston State with Markquis Nowell finishing with 34 in the season opener against Southeastern Oklahoma State, holding the numbers one- and two- scoring records by a Trojan at the Jack Stephens Center.
NOWELL PLAYING BIG
The smallest player on the roster, freshman Markquis Nowell has played big for the Trojans this season. After opening the season with a season-high 34 points against Southeastern Oklahoma State, Nowell was hampered by an ankle injury which forced him to miss three games. In his last four games for Little Rock, Nowell is averaging 17.3 points and 4.8 assists per game, ranking second on the team in scoring (12.0 ppg) and assists (4.3 apg) while leading the Trojans in steals (1.7 spg).
THROW IT DOWN, BIG MEN
Little Rock is earning a reputation as one of the nation's top dunking teams as the Trojans have recorded 65 dunks through the first 14 games of the 2018-19 season, averaging 4.5 per game. Kris Bankston has become the poster boy for slams for Little Rock with 41 of his 59 field goals coming off dunks. Rayjon Tucker has thrown it down 16 times this season, followed by 5 from Kamani Johnson and three from Horace Wyatt Jr., as the Trojans are out-dunking their opponents 65-31. However, the Trojans were held without a dunk against Louisiana, the first time all season Little Rock finished a game dunkless in 2018-19.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
While the Trojans have improved in a handful of categories, there are still a few areas head coach Darrell Walker continues to focus us. As a team, Little Rock is shooting 62.6% from the free throw line, ranking 336th nationally. Turnovers have plagued the young Trojans as well as Little Rock is averaging 16.8 per game, sitting 343rd nationally and committing 65 in the last two games. Offensive rebounds have also been an area of concern for Little Rock as the Trojans are pulling down just 7.73 per game, ranking 335th nationally. It is a stark contract on the defensive glass, however, where the Trojans are averaging 27.8 per game to lead the Sun Belt Conference and rank 51st in the NCAA.
For each of the last three games, head coach Darrell Walker has included four true freshmen in the Little Rock starting lineup, consisting of Markquis Nowell, Kamani Johnson, Horace Wyatt Jr. and Nikola Maric. The Trojan freshman class have played a key role in 2018-19 for Little Rock as the group has combined to play 1,155 of Little Rock's 3,050 minutes (37.9%) while scoring 412 of the Trojans' 1,167 points (35.3%). The freshmen have also added 191 rebounds (35.8%) while combining to register 38 starts on the year (50.7%).
LAST TIME OUT
Rayjon Tucker scored a career-high 36 points, but the rest of the team managed just 25 as the Trojans fell victim to Louisiana 75-61 at the Cajundome Saturday evening. The Ragin' Cajun effort was sparked by a 45-point performance by JaKeenan Gant, the second-straight game an opposing player scored more than 40 points against the Trojans. Little Rock shot just 40.5% from the floor, its second-lowest output of the season, and committed 23 turnovers, including 15 in the first half to help Louisiana race out to an early lead it never relinquished.
SCOUTING THE (ALABAMA) TROJANS
2018-19: 8-6 overall, 1-1 Sun Belt, 2-3 on the road
Last Three Games: W vs. Appalachian State (89-85), L vs. Coastal Carolina (88-75), W at UAB (74-73)
Series: Little Rock leads, 12-9 (.571) | Streak: Troy won 3 | First: 1962-63 (L, 76-49) | Last: Feb. 10, 2018 (L, 82-64)
Head Coach: Phil Cunningham (Campbellsville, 1990). Sixth season at Troy (76-99)
• #23 Jordon Varnado (Sr., F): 18.0 ppg., 7.3 rpg., 49.4 FG%, 82.4 FT%
• #30 Alex Hicks (Sr., F): 12.4 ppg., 8.0 rpg., 53.3 FG%
• #11 B.J. Miller (Sr., G): 10.6 ppg., 2.7 rpg., 60.5 FG%
• #1 Javan Johnson (So.,, F): 9.0 ppg., 3.3 rpg., 39.5 FG%
• #3 Darian Adams (R-So., G): 7.0 ppg., 3.1 rpg., 34.0 FG%, 87.5 FT%
LAST TIME vs. THE TROJANS
Little Rock dug itself a big hole early and never recovered, dropping an 82-64 decision at Troy on February 10, 2018. A pair of extended runs by Troy gave it a 12-point halftime lead, then the home Trojans used a 16-4 run in the second half to ice its third-straight win over Little Rock. The loss overshadowed a career-night for Jaizec Lottie, who finished with 17 points and went 11-of-14 from the free throw line.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — OPENING TIP