After a trying non-conference slate and 2-6 January performance, Little Rock (LR) men’s basketball pieced together its longest win streak of the season and moved away from the bottom of the Sun Belt this February. As of Feb. 20, the Trojans stand at 5-8 in league play and are in a three-way tie for eighth place with South Alabama and Arkansas St.
LR has the second-best field goal percentage in the Sun Belt, connecting on 49 percent of shots this season. The Trojans’ top scorer, redshirt-junior guard Rayjon Tucker, averages 20.1 points per game—good for fifth in the conference—with a .494 shooting percentage. Markquis Nowell, a freshman, ranks fourth in the league with an average of 4.4 assists per game.
On Feb. 2, LR dropped an 84-83 heartbreaker to Arkansas St., the Trojans’ fifth consecutive loss and second one-point setback in three games. The Red Wolves led by 22 points with 8:28 remaining, but Deondre Burns dropped 17 points and Tucker had 12 in a frenzied 35-12 Trojan run. Tucker made a three to give Little Rock an 83-82 advantage with 12 seconds left. Burns committed a foul on the ensuing possession and Arkansas St.’s Grantham Gillard converted the game-winning free throws with six seconds remaining. Tucker finished with his fourth double-double of the season, with 23 points and 10 boards, while Burns had 19 points.
Tucker again paced the Trojans with 24 points in an 84-70 road disposal of Troy the next week. Burns and Nikola Maric each added 12 points. LR trailed 36-30 at halftime, but took the lead for good five minutes into the second half en route to its first win since Jan. 12.
The Trojans swept the two-game road trip with a 73-68 decision over South Alabama. LR trailed by as many as 10 points shortly after halftime, but ultimately outscored the Jaguars 44-30 in the second half. Again, Tucker led all scorers with 24 points—17 of which came in the second half—and finished one rebound away from a double-double. Freshman forward Kamani Johnson put up 15 points, nine of which came at the free-throw line.
Five Trojans scored double-digit point totals in a 56-52 win over UT Arlington on Feb. 14 at the Jack Stephens Center. The low, balanced-scoring affair was Little Rock’s third consecutive victory and placed them at 5-7 in Sun Belt play. Tucker and Kris Bankston had 11 points, while Burns, Maric and Dani Koljanin all had 10. Tucker logged 10 rebounds for his fifth double-double. Little Rock outrebounded the Mavericks 32-23 on the defensive glass and tied a season low with only 10 turnovers.
LR’s win streak came to an end Feb. 16 with a 67-60 loss to 1st-place Texas St. at home.
Tucker scored 20 points, while Maric had 17, his third-highest mark of the season. The Bobcats commanded the lead for the entire second half and led by as many as 12, though the Trojans chipped the deficit to three points within the final minute. Texas St. was 11-of-13 from the free-throw line and went 8-for-8 from the stripe in the second half to stave off the LR rally.
With five regular-season contests remaining, the Trojans have an opportunity to gain separation in the league standings. First comes a three-game road swing, including a Feb. 23 matchup with Arkansas St. before trips to Georgia Southern (Feb. 28) and Georgia St. (March 2). The regular season concludes with a pair of home games, against Louisiana (March 7) and ULM (March 9).