DePaul Blue Demons vs. Little Rock Trojans – Saturday, December 12th, 9:00 p.m. Central – McGrath-Phillips Arena, Chicago, Illinois
Television – FOX Sports 1
Radio – WSCR AM 670, Radio DePaul Sports (www.radiodepaulsports.com)
The Blue Demons battle the Trojans at McGrath-Phillips Arena, playing at the venue for the second time this season. DePaul opened up the 2015-16 campaign at the arena and knocked off Western Michigan 68-63. Overall, DePaul is 3-0 at home, including a 96-72 win against Chicago State at Allstate Arena.
This meeting marks the first time that DePaul will square off with Arkansas-Little Rock.
After finishing eighth in the Sun Belt Conference with a 13-18 record a season ago, head coach Steve Shields was fired. Shields coached the Trojans for 12 seasons, finishing with a 192-178 mark, including an NCAA tournament appearance back in 2011.
Arkansas-Little Rock proceeded to hire Chris Beard to take over as head coach last April. Beard previously manned the sidelines at Angelo State, a Division II school, over the past two seasons and totaled a 47-15 record. He even worked under Bobby Knight as an assistant coach at Texas Tech for seven seasons.
The hire has clearly paid dividends. The Trojans are one of 10 teams in Division I to boast an undefeated record, as Beard’s squad is off to a 7-0 start. Arkansas Little-Rock leads the nation in scoring defense, holding opponents to 54.6 points per contest. Thanks to their impressive resume, the Trojans netted five total points in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, garnering respect from around the country.
In their last game, the Trojans allowed the Idaho Vandals to shoot just 32.2 percent from the field in a 64-54 win. Arkansas-Little Rock ranks sixth in defensive field goal percentage within Division I at 35.7 percent.
In Ken Pomeroy's college basketball rankings, Arkansas-Little Rock ranks 123rd, and DePaul sits at 131st. Hence, this game represents a terrific matchup on paper.
The Blue Demons knocked off Drake 74-71 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight victory. DePaul shot 57.1 percent from the field and 50 percent from behind the arc.
Billy Garrett Jr. carved out 19 points, two rebounds and one assist while managing to miss just one shot. The point guard is averaging 17.5 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.5 rebounds during the winning streak, along with shooting 53.7 percent from the field. Garrett shot just 38.2 percent in his first two seasons, so he seems to be making strides in his junior campaign.
Eli Cain chipped in with 13 points and six rebounds in the win. The freshman looks much more confident over the last three games, averaging 14.7 points and 4.3 rebounds during that span, as well as a 65.4 field goal percentage.
On the flip side, DePaul allowed the Bulldogs to attempt 24 free throws. Reed Timmer, Drake’s leading scorer, went 13 of 17 from the charity stripe and paced the offense with 30 points.
Arkansas-Little Rock is second in Division I with an 81.5 percent clip from the free-throw line. Unlike versus Drake, it’s imperative that the Blue Demons stay away from hacking the Trojans, as Beard’s bunch will cash in from the line.
The Trojans hold another impressive mark, ranking fifth in the nation with a plus-6.4 turnover margin per game. The Blue Demons should focus on clenching the basketball after their 14 turnovers against Drake.
Offensively, Marcus Johnson Jr. leads the Trojans in scoring with 15.1 points per game. The 5-foot-11 guard started all 36 games last season but has come off the bench in the first seven contests of the 2015-16 campaign. The junior is shooting 58.9 percent from the field, 60 percent from behind the arc and 91.7 percent from the free-throw line.
Dave Leitao could decide to put Garrett on Johnson throughout the ballgame, but the head coach might be wary because of foul trouble. DePaul’s six-foot-six point guard fouled out late in the second half against Drake, leaving the Blue Demons without their go-to free-throw shooter on the floor in the final minutes.
Arkansas-Little Rock’s second leading scorer is Josh Hagins, averaging 11.1 points, five rebounds and 4.7 assists per contest. The six-foot-one guard shoots a rock-solid 84.2 percent from the charity stripe, too.
Jalen Jackson, a six-foot-six swingman, ranks third in scoring for the Trojans. The junior averages nine points per game off the bench, along with shooting 92.9 percent from the free-throw line.
If DePaul wants to hand Arkansas-Little Rock its first loss of the season, the Blue Demons must hold off second chance opportunities and score in transition. A slower-paced game favors the Trojans with their ability to knock down free throws at such a high clip.
Little Rock Roster
2015-16 Men's Basketball Roster
NO. NAME POS. HT. WT. YR. HOMETOWN / PREVIOUS SCHOOL
0 Woods, Roger F 6-5 230 Sr. Jackson, Miss. / Provine HS
1 Jackson, Jalen G/F 6-6 195 Jr. West Memphis, Ark. / West Memphis HS
2 Green, Daniel F 6-10 240 Sr. Colleyville, Texas / Grapevine HS
3 Hagins, Josh G 6-1 180 Sr. Bossier City, La. / Airline HS
5 Black, Oliver F 6-9 225 So. Jackson, Miss. / IMG Academy
10 Hill, Maurius F 6-5 220 Jr. Homewood, Ill. / Homewood-Flossmoor HS
11 Ruttley, Jermaine G 6-3 200 Sr. Radcliff, Ky. / North Hardin HS
12 Shoshi, Lis F 6-11 210 Jr. Peje, Kosovo
13 Johnson Jr., Marcus G 5-11 175 Jr. Charlotte, N.C. / Evelyn Mack Academy
14 Isom, Mareik F 6-9 215 R-Jr. Austin, Texas / Bowie HS
15 Billings, Stetson F 6-5 195 R-Jr. Strong, Ark. / Strong-Huttig HS
20 Marcus, Ben G/F 6-5 200 R-Fr. Pine Bluff, Ark. / Watson Chapel HS
21 Watkins, Dayshawn G 6-0 180 Jr. North Little Rock, Ark. / North Little Rock HS
22 Brandsma, Thomas F 6-5 210 Sr. Colleyville, Texas / Colleyville Heritage HS
23 Osse, Kemy G 6-1 208 R-Jr. Montreal, Quebec / Archbishop Carroll HS
24 Moorman, Evan G 6-1 200 Jr. Memphis, Tenn. / White Station HS
30 Burns, Deondre G 6-2 175 Fr. Yazoo City, Miss. / Newman Smith HS