by Rick Kindhart
An open 20-foot jumper by Little Rock’s Ruot Monyyong with 2.3 seconds remaining lifted the visiting Trojans past Missouri State, 67-66, here Tuesday in the men’s basketball season opener for both teams.
The Bears (0-1) led for more than 36 minutes and overcame a brief, one-point deficit in the final minute on a pair of free throws from Tyrik Dixon to lead 66-65 late. Ja’Monta Black secured a steal for Missouri State on Little Rock’s next possession, which led to the home side running the clock down to 13 seconds before a missed shot from the corner late in the shot clock.
The visitors gathered in the rebound and seemed to be stymied by Missouri State early in their final possession before Jaizec Lottie found a wide open Monyyong on the right wing. The 6-foot-10 junior then dropped in his biggest shot of the night to give Little Rock a one-point upset win.
Dixon’s desperation shot just inside half court as the buzzer sounded was off its mark for the Bears.
Ben Coupert led all scorers with 13 points and 8 rebounds for Little Rock (1-0) with Markquis Nowell adding 12 points and 8 assists, and Lottie scoring 10.
The Bears, who led by as many as eight in the second half, were led by Lamont West’s 12 points with Dixon and Josh Hall pouring in 11 points apiece.
Coach Dana Ford’s squad accounted for seven takeaways in the first half that helped the Bears generate a pair of transition buckets to take a 39-33 lead into at the game’s midway point. Tulio Da Silva netted 9 of his 10 points in the first 20 minutes, including a rim-rattling fast-break dunk in the final minute of the half to give the home side a six-point cushion.
Dixon opened up the second-half scoring with a high-arching shot off the glass to put MSU up 41-33 for its biggest lead of the night.
The Bears fought off several runs by the visitors throughout the rest of the half, answering every threat with timely plays and exciting finishes. Isiaih Mosley’s transition layup made it a 46-41 game near the 14-minute mark; Hall’s trey with 12-and-a-half remaining gave the Bears a 49-45 lead; and Keandre Cook’s dunk-back midway through the final stanza pushed the Bears ahead 52-47.
Deeper in the half, a transition triple by Dixon gave Missouri State a six-point advantage, and West’s four-point play with 6:27 remaining in the game brought the JQH Arena crowd of over 5,000 to its feet and made it 62-56 game.
However, the home side would convert just one field goal the rest of the way – a Mosley put-back with 4:35 on the clock — that pushed MSU up 64-61 and ended a personal 5-0 outburst from Lottie.
Alsean Evans finally gave Little Rock a brief advantage with his 17-footer that found its mark with 83 seconds to go before Dixon calmed the waters with his charity shots at the 1:01 mark, giving MSU a 66-65 lead headed into the game’s final minute.
Little Rock accounted for 36 points in the paint – 20 in the second half – to help execute the comeback and used pinpoint passing from Nowell to help the Trojans shoot 54-percent from the field in the second half and 51.9 percent (27-of-52) for the game.
MSU finished 23-of-54 (.426) from the field, 8-of-28 (.286) from long range and just 12-of-18 (.667) at the foul line.
The defeat was Missouri State’s first loss in a home opener since 2002-03 and the team’s first-ever loss at JQH Arena on opening night.