Installment I of the home-and-home basketball “Rock and Roar Rivalry” between the University of Central Arkansas and Little Rock University rocked and roared — and tilted and swirled and twisted and spun.
The Trojans’ 89-87 victory Tuesday night at the Farris Center was finally settled when Little Rock’s Marcus Johnson Jr. drove the lane and got just the right off-balance, twist for a bucket with 15.7 seconds left in overtime. Then, a contested 3-pointer by UCA’s Jordan Howard for the win bounced off the back of the rim on the other end of the court.
Those dramatics were preceded by another lane maneuver — a twisting, off-balance shot by the Bears’ Derreck Brooks a split second before the buzzer ending regulation. That punctuated a UCA rally that overcame a six-point deficit in the final 1:01.
Those heroics were preceded by a no-look backhanded pass by the Trojans’ Jalen Jackson that resulted in a Johnson layp that gave Little Rock the 81-75 lead with 1:01 left. Or a 3-pointer by Howard in which he gave the Bears a 74-71 lead with 2:41 left in regulation in which he threw up the ball (shot put style) just as the shot clock was expiring. Or an inside rebound basket by Little Rock’s Darrell Mason as he desperately shot the ball on his way down.
All kinds of strange and superb plays in a crazily entertaining game.
Overshadowed by the roller-coaster late flurries was a 3-pointer that the Trojans’ Andre Jones tossed in from just inside midcourt at the halftime buzzer.
“That shot probably won the game,” said UCA coach Russ Pennell. “There’s a tendency to look at the last few minutes of the game and think that’s what cost you. I look at the 11-1 start (by Little Rock). Little Rock came out and they were ready to go and we were a little, I don’t know if we were flat ... I thought we were a little more nervous than anything. You get down 11-1, man, you’re pushing a rock up a hill.
“But I was proud of the way we fought back (a 14-0 run in the second half). I thought we showed a lot of character and a lot of heart. That’s probably what makes it even tougher now in that locker room because we haven’t had tons of success. Now all of a sudden you get that close against a quality team and you come up a little bit short.”
The Trojans, the defending Sun Belt champions under first-year coach Wes Flanigan, are 5-2. UCA fell to 1-5 with Pennell pondering next steps.
“We talked before the game about learning to win,” he said. “And that sounds like a cliche, but there’s a lot of merit to diving on the loose ball and being in the right position and being disciplined to box out every time. All those things. Good teams don’t beat themselves and I thought tonight we got closer than we have, but we’re still just a little bit short.
“We’re better, but the problem is, there’s not a lot to show for it. And I was a little concerned about that with our schedule this fall. It’s a tough schedule. I think it’s making us better but my hope is that my team doesn’t lose heart. That will be up to me and my staff to make sure. A game like this can go one of two ways. It can either make you mad and you fight, or you can get discouraged and say ‘man, I gave everything I had.’ I feel like we’re real close. I really do. I like this team.”
Johnson scored six of the Trojans’ last 18 points to lead five players in double figures with 18 points and seven rebounds.
The Bears’ Tanner Schmit, a 6-8 sophomore, had the best game of his career in leading the Bears with 22 points on 10-of-14 shooting, mostly on smooth jumpers from the baseline.
“He’s been shooting the ball well in practice,” said Pennell. “We’ve been waiting on him to do this because he’s a very good offensive player. My issue with Tanner has been I didn’t think he rebounded the ball quite as well, but he’s started doing that. He really crashed the glass tonight ... Last year, he didn’t get a lot of opportunities with (senior) Jake (Zuilhof). And this year is almost like his freshman year.
“But I’m glad to see he had a breakout night. Hopefully that a sign of good things to come for us in the pivot.”
Howard, (6 of 16 and 3 of 9 on 3-pointers) addeed 19 points. Brokks added 17 and Jeff Lowery 11.
UCA now heads to Cape Girardeau, Mo., for a Thursday night game against Southeast Missouri before playing Butler University on Saturday at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse (used for the movie, “Hoosiers’) in Indianapolis, Ind.