Men's Basketball

UTA molding into shape with Sun Belt play around the corner

Alabama guard Collin Sexton, right, drives around UT Arlington guard Nathan Hawkins during a game in November in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Alabama guard Collin Sexton, right, drives around UT Arlington guard Nathan Hawkins during a game in November in Tuscaloosa, Ala. AP

The UT Arlington men’s basketball team is just about where it hoped it would be a month into the season.

Despite a four-point loss to a tough Northern Iowa team on the road Thursday night, the Mavs (7-2) are finding their swagger as non-conference play winds down.

UTA hosts Florida Gulf Coast (6-4) at College Park Center at 2 p.m. Saturday. Fans are encouraged to wear all black, which will go well with the black T-shirt giveaway. Admission is free for everyone 18 and under through Jan. 6.

“We have played a tough schedule and we are five points away from being undefeated,” Coach Scott Cross said. “We have improved defensively, which is encouraging.”

The Mavs have four non-conference games left before opening Sun Belt Conference action Dec. 29 at Coastal Carolina. UTA is the defending conference champion.

Tightening up the shut down defense was one of Cross’s top priorities before conference play. The Mavs held Northern Iowa to two offensive rebounds and are holding opponents to 67.9 points a game.

Point guard Erick Neal is tied for 15th in the nation with eight assists per game.

“He was a floor general [Thursday] night and pitching the ball up the floor and defending like an elite point guard,” Cross said. Neal scored 14 points, dished seven assists and added five rebounds against NIU.

Stefan Stevenson: 817-390-7760, @StevensonFWST

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