Nov. 18, 2007
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - - UT Arlington junior guard Brandon Long ended the first half with a 3-pointer at the buzzer Sunday against Arkansas-Little Rock, but it was his second long-range jumper - and some stingy defense - that has sent the Mavericks men's basketball team off to its best start since 1992.
With 12 seconds on the shot clock and exactly one minute on the game clock, Mavericks coach Scott Cross called time out with UTA up by one point.
Long - who Cross said was the second option on the play - took a pass on the left wing, dribbled left nailed a 21-footer to put the Mavericks up by four. UTA drew a turnover on UALR's next possession, hit its foul shots down the stretch and jogged away from the Jack Stephen Center with a 68-58 victory and an undefeated record in three games to open the season.
"We knew coming in that it was going to be a war," Cross said. "They're a very good ball team, very athletic and great with their press. This is a great feeling and a great win for our program. I've been around this program a long time, and this win is about as big as I can remember. (UALR) is top-notch, and they're going to win a lot of games this year."
UTA blew out its first two opponents at home, UC-Riverside and Texas Southern, but players said a game on the road against a Sun Belt opponent was the real test.
The Mavericks started the road test by pounding the ball inside to pre-season, first-team All-Southland Conference center Jermaine Griffin. A 6-9 senior, Griffin battled foul trouble but still finished with nine points and 10 rebounds in 21 minutes of action. When Griffin wasn't in the game, UTA got quality minutes from sophomore Tommy Moffitt (eight points, five rebounds), Anthony Vereen (six points) and Trey Parker (three points in six minutes).
Long finished as the Mavericks leading scorer with 15 points, and Larry Posey added 12. UTA won despite shooting 3-for-14 from the 3-point line.
Senior guard Rod Epps finished with six points but went 4-for-4 from the foul line to ice the game and stop any chance of a UALR comeback.
"It was a physical game, and it seemed like their coach really wanted to take the big men out of the game," Griffin said. "But we had some guys come in and give some great minutes - Trey came up huge tonight, and Tommy played great. It shows that we have a team. To come in here, take that five or six hour bus ride and beat a good team like that in their house means a lot for this program right now. We still have some good teams coming up, but this was big for us."
One thing Cross stressed with his bunch was to get off to a good start.
That wasn't a problem at all.
The Mavericks jumped to a quick 6-0 lead, thanks to tough half-court defense and two baskets by Jermaine Griffin - including a dunk after a perfect lob entry-pass from Rod Epps. UALR continued to have early trouble scoring in its half-court offense, but the Trojans drew a foul at the 17:51 mark after a fast-break layup attempt to make it 6-1 for their first point of the game.
By the time the teams entered the first media timeout, the Mavericks had an 8-3 on the strength of Griffin's four points and three rebounds. Another Griffin dunk made it 10-3 before UALR responded with its first show of offensive life.
Sparked by a Steven Moore 3-pointer, the Trojans cut the Mavericks lead to 10-8 with a 5-0 run. In that spurt, the Mavericks had five empty offensive possessions, including two turnovers, and couldn't grab an offensive rebound. From there, the teams settled into a contest between UTA's size inside and UALR's outside shooting and transition game. And UTA had to do it with Griffin on the bench after picking up his second foul with six minutes left in the half.
After the Trojans tied it, 13-13, on a 3-pointer by Matt Mouzy, the teams traded leads until a dunk in transition by UALR's Brandon Patterson put the Trojans ahead, 21-19.
UALR took its biggest lead of the half after a free throw, UTA turnover and two more John Fowler free-throws. Again, UTA was forced to foul on that possession because of a steal and Trojans breakaway.
But the Mavericks kept it close, and with time winding down in the half, UTA forced a turnover and got the quick outlet pass to Long. With a two-on-two break and only two seconds on the clock, Long calmly stopped, pulled up and launched a 3-ponter from the left wing with a defender in his face. The ball fell through the net just as the buzzer sounded to end the half with UTA leading, 27-26.
Long said he could tell each time - with the one at the half and the three-pointer late in the game - that both were going in.
"Coach (Reggie) Brown kept telling me that somebody was going to have to step up and hit a big shot," Long said. "With the one at the end of the half, I knew that I didn't have time to drive to the hole, so I just pulled up. With the last one, I got just enough space to let it go. They have a nice team, so to come in here and beat them like this is big for us."
With UTA the score tied 34-34 and Griffin on the bench after picking up a quick third foul early in the second half, UTA turned to Posey and the young front line of 6-8 redshirt freshman Trey Parker and sophomore power forward Tommy Moffitt. A Parker dunk and Posey layup made it 38-34 in favor of the Mavericks. After a 3-pointer cut the lead to one, Moffitt took over. Moffitt nailed two quick baskets from the foul line, then took a charge to give UTA the ball and a 42-37 lead with 12:02 left. It was UTA's biggest lead since the game's first two minutes. Parker made it 43-37 after hitting one of two free throws.
The teams traded baskets until a UALR layup cut it to 47-49 with 7:11 left.
That's when the Mavericks took control, forcing a miss a turnover and taking a charge on three consecutive possessions. UTA's three trips down the floor in that stretch yielded a Griffin free throw, Griffin dunk and a baseline driving layup by Long to give the Mavericks a 54-47 lead with 5:23 left.
But the Trojans wouldn't go away, answering with a Terrance Akins 3-pointer and free throw to make it 54-51.
An NBA-range Rog'er Guignard 3-pointer from the top of the key pushed the Mavericks lead back to six just under the five-minute mark, but again, UALR answered with a basket in transition.
Neither team could put together a run as the time ticked away. Then, the Long 3-pointer gave UTA just enough breathing room.
"Our guys played hard, and they did a good job handling the pressure of playing a tough opponent on the road," Cross said.
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