Trojans grab wins, but injuries mount
The weekend was fantastic. The reappearance of two critical injuries to UALR’s starting backcourt were not.
The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s men’s basketball team went 2-0 this past weekend and swept a Sun Belt Conference road series for the first time since Feb. 18-20, 2016, when the Trojans took out the Georgia schools.
UALR (9-15, 4-7) defeated Troy 84-70 on Thursday and South Alabama 73-68 on Saturday. The Trojans’ road sweep also completed season sweeps of the Alabama schools after defeating both at the Jack Stephens Center
in Little Rock in mid-January.
But here is the bad news. Starting freshman point guard Markquis Nowell, UALR’s second-leading scorer with 12.7 points per game, suffered a “pretty good” ankle sprain Saturday and may be sidelined for a second time this season with an injured ankle.
Sophomore guard Jaizec Lottie, a starter who missed three games with a broken finger from Dec. 22-Jan. 5, reinjured his hand during the weekend and did not play Saturday.
“Well, our issue now is Markquis going to be out for a long time?” UALR Coach Darrell Walker said Sunday. “Is Lottie going to be out a long time with his hand again? I’m back to that again.”
Nowell missed three games from Nov. 28-Dec. 4 with a high ankle sprain.
Nowell injured his other ankle Saturday, not the ankle with injury history, Walker said.
The injuries forced UALR to play redshirt junior guard Rayjon Tucker, the team’s leading scorer at 20.5 points per game, all 40 minutes of Saturday’s victory. They also prompted Walker to insert senior forward Dani Koljanin into the starting lineup for the first time in his career.
Walker opted to keep redshirt junior Deondre Burns as a boost off the bench. Burns, who is third on the Trojans at 10.4 points per game, and Tucker handled much of Nowell and Lottie’s point guard duties Saturday.
Koljanin, who played 17 minutes, his most in a Sun Belt game this season, had four points and four rebounds. In 27 minutes, Burns finished with six points and two assists.
“It is what it is,” Walker said. “We’re going to take our time, come back home and get ready for Thursday.”
UALR will host the University of Texas at Arlington at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Jack Stephens Center and Texas State at 3 p.m. Saturday. Texas-Arlington and Texas State are tied for first in the Sun Belt at 8-3.
With Lottie’s hand still swollen Sunday, Walker is hopeful he may be well
enough to play Thursday, but it seemed unlikely when asked Sunday. Walker did not offer a timeline for Nowell.
If there is any good news for UALR’s injured backcourt, junior guard Ryan Pippins, one of its reliable reserves, returned from an ankle injury Saturday.
Pippins played five minutes and recorded one rebound in his first action since Jan. 5. Mostly spent with a boot supporting his ankle, Pippins missed eight games before his brief return Saturday.
His ankle is still not “100 percent,” Walker said, but Pippins is expected to play in a limited capacity Thursday.