After losing both games of a doubleheader at home against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (13-4 overall, 7-3 Sun Belt), Texas State men’s basketball (11-6 overall, 5-3 Sun Belt) will look to get back on track against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (10-7 overall, 6-4 Sun Belt) on Feb. 5-6.
Prior to the series against Louisiana on Jan. 29-30, Texas State was on a five-game winning streak and the top seed in the West Division of the Sun Belt Conference. Now the Bobcats find themselves on a two-game losing streak and the second seed of the division two games behind the first-place Ragin’ Cajuns.
Texas State had been on an extended road-trip leading up to the series, and Interim Head Coach Terrence Johnson says the nerves of playing in front of a home crowd contributed to the losses.
"We were too up-and-down,” Johnson says. “Very emotional tonight, which is often the case when you put a ton of pressure on yourself to perform at a high level. This game is not anyone's fault. The guys really wanted it and were excited to be back home after being on the road for over a month.”
In the Jan. 30 contest, the Ragin’ Cajuns held a slight lead in the early going but Texas State was quick to respond. Louisiana held the largest lead of the game at the 12:23 mark as it led 17-10. Just when it seemed the game was getting out of hand for the Bobcats, they rattled off six unanswered points to trail by just one. Texas State kept the game within one possession for the next four minutes before tying the game up at 25-25 after a three by junior guard Mason Harrell. Each team took the lead a couple of times before the halftime buzzer sounded with Louisiana ahead 38-35.
Less than a minute into the second half, Texas State took the lead once again after back-to-back threes. The rest of the game was tightly contested, with nine lead changes and eight ties. The Bobcats seemed to have a slight edge as they maintained a lead of a few points for most of the latter portion of the second half. Louisiana did manage to tie the game a few times but rarely had the lead in the final five minutes of action.
With less than a minute left in the game and Louisiana ahead 72-71, Harrell drove to the basket and drew a foul on a shot attempt. He hit 2-2 at the line and put his team ahead by one point with 0:29 to go. After a timeout, sophomore guard Devin Butts of the Ragin’ Cajuns stole the ball and converted a layup to take the lead 74-73, dealing Texas State its second loss in a row.
Harrell finished with a career-high 27 points (9-13 FGS, 2-3 3FGS, 7-7 FTS), four assists and a steal. Junior guard Caleb Asberry turned in another strong performance on the stat sheet with 15 points (6-8 FGS, 2-2 3FGS), five rebounds and two assists.
Senior guard Cedric Russell led Louisiana in scoring for the second night in a row with 24 points (9-17 FGS, 6-9 3FGS). His teammate Butts had a near-perfect night, shooting 6-7 overall from the field and 4-5 from three on his way to 18 points.
In the Jan. 29 game, Louisiana jumped out to an early 8-3 lead in the first half before Texas State closed the gap to 10-8 just under nine minutes into the game. The Ragin’ Cajuns slowly built up their lead to as much as nine points before the game went into halftime with Texas State down 31-24.
The Bobcats came out of the break determined to keep their win streak alive, going on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 31-31 just a minute into the second period. Louisiana answered with a 6-0 run of its own before Asberry hit a three to make the score 37-34 in favor of the Ragin’ Cajuns. The rest of the quarter was a back-and-forth affair with neither team managing a lengthy run. Eventually, Louisiana separated itself and led by as much as six points in the final two minutes. Texas State went on to lose 62-60.
Harrell and junior forward Alonzo Sule were the only Bobcats to score in double figures. Harrell finished with 14 points (5-12 FGS, 4-6 FTS), five rebounds and three assists. Sule had 11 points (4-11 FGS, 3-6 FTS) four rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
For Louisiana, Russell had a game-high 21 points (7-15 FGS, 3-8 3FGS, 4-8 FTS) to go with five rebounds and a steal.
Looking forward to Little Rock, Johnson says recovery and film sessions will be his main focus preparing for the Trojans.
“Back-to-back games against a very physical team, we had some guys play some high minutes," Johnson says. "[Rest and rehab] is the first thing. Second of all, intense film study. Try to get better at seeing, because in this era of basketball certainly, film study is extremely important. The last thing is really working on ourselves, trying to refine some things. Trying to run a more purposeful offense and a more determined defense.”
Texas State swept Little Rock earlier in the season on Jan. 15-16 as part of its five-game winning streak. Now the Bobcats find themselves just one game ahead of the Trojans. Losing one game of the upcoming doubleheader would mean being tied for second place; losing both would mean falling from first place to third place in the span of one week.
Little Rock is led by the Preseason Player of the Year senior forward Ruot Monyyong who averages a double-double at 12.9 points and 11.1 rebounds a game, all while shooting 61.4% from the field and blocking 1.8 shots a game. The leading scorer for the Trojans is junior guard Markquis Nowell at 14.9 points per game. Nowell also leads Little Rock in steals with 2.5. The second-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder for the Trojans is junior forward Nikola Maric with 14.8 points and 6.6 rebounds.
The first game tips-off at 4 p.m. on Feb. 5, followed by the second game at 4 p.m. on Feb. 6. Both games will take place in Strahan Arena and can be streamed on ESPN+.