The defending Sun Belt Tournament Champions, University of Arkansas Little Rock (UALR), handed the men’s basketball team its first loss of the season. After showing dominance in the preseason and defeating Anderson easily in the first game of the season, the Jags fell 75-70 to UALR in the first game of the Auto-Owners Insurance Spartan Invitational.
UALR sophomore Chuck Guy led the way as he finished with 21 points and helped the team get off to an 11 point halftime lead, 43-32. The Jags were led by Alex Young, who finished with 19 points, while Greg Rice and Donovan Gibbs both added 11.
With stellar athleticism, IUPUI (1-1) can produce a run at any time, but the run in this game came too late in their second half attempt. The Jags were within nine points at the beginning of the half, but on two possessions, Young missed a jumper and Christian Siakam was called for an offensive foul.
"Part of being a winning basketball team means playing through adversity on the road," Howard said. "There were some bright spots and there were some not so bright spots tonight. We're going to learn from this and hopefully come away a better basketball team. The good part is, we're back at it later this week so there's no real time to dwell on this one."
At about eight minutes remaining, Howard switched the team to a 2-3 zone defense that proved helpful. UALR’s next five possessions were empty, but the Jags never capitalized. They got within ten, 65-55, after free throws from Young and a basket from Siakam, but other players never stepped up.
Sean Esposito, who was injured preseason played 14 minutes and finished with no shot attempts or assists. Center Mitchell Patton finished with eight, but all points were before halftime. Senior Stephen Thomas contributed with 10 points off the bench, led the team in assists and had a steal; however total performances were needed from more Jags.
"We're still not fully healthy, so figuring out rotations is a challenge. We have yet to have everyone healthy and available in practice, so we're still a work in progress in that regard," Howard said. "We've said all along that it's up to the guys to make our job as coaches hard in terms of figuring out who needs to be on the floor."
The Spartan Classic continues as the Jags head to Milwaukee for its second game of the tourney on Friday at 7:50 p.m. The Jags are hoping to have more things in order before its next challenge.