Every time UT Arlington’s men’s basketball season seems to be on the verge of getting away, the Mavericks find a way to respond.
After suffering two gut-wrenching losses at home, the Mavericks bounced back with a 15-point win over Louisiana Lafayette, the highest-scoring team in the Sun Belt Conference.
UTA hopes to continue that momentum at 7:30 p.m. Thursday against Texas State (11-11, 5-8) in San Marcos with a chance to give the Bobcats their seventh loss in eight games.
The Mavericks (13-9, 7-5) will have to finish the season without Johnny Hill, the only player averaging more than 25 minutes and one of two in double-digit scoring (10.1).
Hill underwent surgery on his wrist on Wednesday after finishing his season with a 16-point, six-assist game on Saturday.
“What hurts the most is the fact that he was our best defender,” coach Scott Cross said. “We’re going to need some of the other guys to step up and fill that role he had for us.”
That burden may fall on freshman Erick Neal, who will be asked to run the offense with Lonnie McClanahan, the team’s leading scorer. Neal is the only starting freshman point guard in the Sun Belt, but he’s proven to be consistent — based on being ranked sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio despite only playing 15 minutes a game.
It isn’t as if Cross was dependent on Hill to make plays. Instead, the Mavericks are built to allow many players contribute offensively. Six Mavericks are scoring seven or more per game, and there’s been a different leading scorer in each of the last five games.
The Mavericks beat Texas State 66-55 on Jan. 19 after trailing with three minutes to play, proving they can beat coach Danny Kaspar’s slow-it-down approach. Aside from their two victories over South Alabama, the Bobcats haven’t beaten any other team since they won back-to-back double-overtime games in early January.
UTA men at Texas St.
7:30 p.m., tonight, Strahan Coliseum, San Marcos
Radio: KKGM/1630 AM
Records: UTA 13-9, 7-5 Sun Belt; Texas St. 11-11, 5-8