By Art Garcia | @ArtGarcia92
JONESBORO, Arkansas – UT Arlington clinched a spot in the Sun Belt Championship tournament with Saturday night's 79-75 victory over Arkansas State at Convocation Center.
The Mavericks (19-9) snapped a two-game losing streak and improved to 10-7 in league play. UTA's win plus Texas State's loss at Little Rock earlier in the day locked down the tourney berth. The Mavs, currently in fourth, remain in position for a first-round tournament bye.
UT Arlington needed a strong finish despite leading by as many as 12 points in the second half. The Red Wolves (11-18, 7-11) went on a 25-7 run to take a 55-49 lead with 11 1/2 minutes to play.
A-State made it interesting from there. The Wolves were down 76-74 with 43 seconds left, and had the ball twice down 78-75 in the final 30 seconds. UTA was able to hold on, and Kaelon Wilson's defensive rebound and subsequent free throw with 0.9 seconds left nailed down the win.
The physical game saw 65 fouls called (35 against UTA) with six players fouling out, including four for UTA. The Mavs had to close out the game without any bigs, as Nick Pallas fouled out with 5:26 remaining and Jorge Bilbao followed suit at the 2:50 mark. Drew Charles and Jones both picked up their fifth fouls in the last minute.
Pallas came off the bench to score a career-high 14 points, 12 coming in the first half, and grab five rebounds. Wilson had his fourth double-double of the season with 13 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Kennedy Eubanks scored 13 and Neal dished out eight assists.
The Mavericks reeled off an 11-0 run in the middle of the first half to turn a 19-12 deficit into a 23-19 lead. The scoring drought for A-State lasted more than four minutes. Wilson's 3-pointer ended the spurt for UTA.
UTA held A-State to 34-percent shooting (18-53) and won the rebound battle 46-36. ... The Mavs held a 44-18 edge in points in the paint. ... UTA's bench scored 34 points to A-State's seven.
Neal has 160 assists this season, fifth most in UTA history. Neal came into the game as the Sun Belt's assists leader. ... UTA's 19 wins are tied for fifth most in program history. ... The Mavs finished the season 9-7 on the road. ... UTA swept the season series with A-State 2-0 ... After playing sparingly lately, Mairega Clarke and Julian Harris both saw action in the first half. In eight games this month, Harris has played in three games and Clarke in two. ... Pallas' 12 first-half points surpassed his previous career high of nine points at Louisiana on Jan. 30.
The Mavericks close out the regular season with a three-game stand at College Park Center starting Tuesday night against rival Texas State, followed by South Alabama on Thursday and Troy on Saturday. Tickets are available at UTATickets.com.
UTA coach Scott Cross opening statement:
"It was tense the entire game. They got the momentum there in the second half after they cut the lead and tied things up. I'm proud of our guys. This is the first time we've won in here. It's not an easy place to play. Guys stepped up. We used our entire bench tonight. Mairega gave us good minutes, Julian gave us a couple good minutes, and these guys battled and fought. Kaelon did a tremendous job on the boards for us. He really played his butt off. He played as hard as he possibly could. Erick got some guys some easy shots, and it was a good all-around team effort."
Cross on Pallas:
"He did great. He's a huge guy, so he can set those ball screens and Erick did a good job finding him. Some of our other guys hit him too on the roll, but he did a good job. Coach Mangrum has been working hard with him trying to develop some post game down there."
Cross on four fouling out:
"They called this game tighter than any game all year long, but we had to adjust. The good thing about it is they called it similar both ways."
Kaelon Wilson on finishing the season at home:
"We've got to keep this win streak going, play defense hard, rebounding and keep our momentum going into the tournament."
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