JONESBORO, AR (astateredwolves.com) – The Arkansas State men's basketball team won its fourth consecutive game with a 68-65 overtime victory against ULM, improving to 3-0 in Sun Belt Conference play for the first time since the 2000-01 season.
The Red Wolves have won four of their last five games to even their overall record to 7-7, and they now stand tied for first place early in the league race with UT Arlington and Little Rock. A-State handed the Warhawks (6-8) their first Sun Belt loss, bringing their conference record to 2-1 in the 14th-straight win against ULM on the home floor.
Arkansas State was led by four players scoring in double figures and its bench that outscored ULM's reserves 23-0. Senior guard Sean Gardner, senior forward Nouhoum Bocoum and junior guard Donte Thomas all scored a team-high 12 points, while junior guard Devin Carter added 11.
"Offensively, we missed some shots we normally hit, particularly in the first half," said A-State head coach John Brady. "We hit a lull defensively for a moment, but for 34 minutes we guarded really well. We fooled around and pressured shots. In the last couple minutes of the game and in overtime we couldn't get the big rebound to really win the game. We beat that team on the boards which was good for us to do. We just found a way to win."
A-State trailed 27-22 at halftime and found itself down by nine points less than three minutes into the second half, but used a 9-0 run to tie the game 33-33 with 13:52 left in regulation. The next seven minutes featured one tie and three lead changes before ULM went on an 8-0 run to take a 53-46 advantage at the 3:39 mark.
However, three combined free throws made by Frederic Dure and Thomas and three's by Josh Pierre and Devin Carter on A-State's next four possessions, put the Red Wolves back on top 55-53 with just under a minute on the clock. The Warhawks made 1-of-2 shots at the stripe on its next possession, and the score then remained 56-55 in favor of A-State until six second was left on the clock.
Thomas made the second of two free throws to give the Red Wolves a two-point cushion, but ULM's Nick Coppola was fouled on a drive to the basket with one second left and connected on both his chances at the free throw line to force overtime.
The first four minutes of overtime was all A-State as the Red Wolves scored the initial nine points to take a 65-56 lead with 1:02 left in the game. ULM remained competitive, however, hitting a quick three-point shot on three consecutive possessions to go on a 9-1 run and pull back within 66-65 with 21 seconds remaining.
Dure was fouled seven seconds later and made both his free throws to set the final score at 68-65. Majok Deng missed a three on ULM's next possession and fouled the Red Wolves immediately. Arkansas State couldn't connect on either of its free throw attempts with less than five seconds to go, giving the Warhawks one last opportunity. However, a three-point attempt by Justin Roberson bounced off the side of the backboard as time expired.
Arkansas State finished the game shooting 38.6 percent from the field in comparison to ULM's .348 field goal percentage. The Red Wolves connected on 6-of-20 three-point attempts and made 18-of-27 field goals. ULM was able to hit 11 three's, but was just 6-of-16 at the charity stripe. A-State held the advantage on the boards, outrebounding the Warhawks 46-42.
The Red Wolves improved to 6-1 this season when outscoring opponents in the paint, posting 20 points to the Warhawks 18 inside. A-State has also now scored at least 68 points in 14 consecutive games for the first time since the 1967-78 team did so over a 17-game stretch to end the season.
Arkansas State didn't take its first lead of the game until almost halfway through the opening period when Gardner completed a three-point play after being fouled on a layup, putting the Red Wolves ahead 11-10. The play was part of a 12-0 run by A-State that gave it an 18-10 lead with 6:11 left before the break. However, ULM responded by scoring 17 of the last 21 points to take a five-point lead into intermission.
ULM was led by three players scoring in double figures, including Deng with a game-high 26 points. Jamaal Samuel and Coppola added 15 and 10 points for the Warhawks, respectively.
"There is nothing better than seeing them after a game like that with a sense of accomplishment and confidence," said Brady. "We've got to prepare tomorrow and respect what we have done. Take care of it and prepare in the proper way for a quick turn around on Saturday. It would be great to get that one Saturday and then have a week to prepare for App State and Little Rock. We've got an opportunity to put ourselves in a good position and hopefully we'll be ready to play Saturday."
Arkansas State continues a four-game home stand Saturday, Jan. 9, with a 7:05 p.m. game against Louisiana-Lafayette.