They lost their best player Thursday night.
They lost Saturday night’s game, for all practical purposes, in the first five minutes.
But the UT Arlington Mavericks showed Saturday night that they still have a heart.
It sounds corny, but this was one game — an eventual 68-62 UTA defeat — where the Mavericks had the grim statistics against Little Rock to back it up.
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“Y’all saw the first half,” UTA coach Scott Cross said. “It was a complete train wreck. We lost our intensity. They hit their first couple of shots, and I didn’t think we were aggressive enough. We didn’t have our hands up.
“They got hot. They about blew our doors off.”
With 5,033 watching at College Park Center and first place in the Sun Belt Conference on the line, it took only five minutes for UTA to find itself being overrun 18-0.
The Mavericks couldn’t steal a bucket. The visiting Trojans seemingly couldn’t miss. By halftime, Little Rock had hit 8 of 16 3-pointers and led 42-14.
Cross’ team looked lost. And with good reason. Sophomore forward Kevin Hervey, UTA’s and likely the entire Sun Belt’s best player, injured his knee Thursday and will miss the rest of the season.
There were five NBA scouts in attendance to watch Hervey on Thursday. On his last warmup shot before the game, he went up for a routine dunk and tore his left ACL.
Hervey had been averaging 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.
“Probably you want to set Kevin aside and say we’re going to move on,” Cross said, “but we’ve played 17 games with him in the lineup and run all kinds of actions through him, and all of a sudden there’s that void.”
But without Hervey’s presence, the Trojans took advantage of the Mavericks’ cold-shooting start.
“Not many teams win games when they’re down by 28 at the end of the first half,” Cross mused.
What he knew, though, is that it nearly happened.
After trailing by 28, the Mavericks finally started playing like a 14-3 team, finally started blocking out on the boards and contesting the Trojans out front, and with 1:48 to go Erick Neal nailed a 3-pointer.
The Little Rock lead was down to 60-56.
Granted, a defeat is a defeat. But after being down by 28 points, a six-point loss without Kevin Hervey seemed like a proud consolation prize.
“I think it would have been a complete disaster to lose that game by 30 points in front of 5,000 people, when the reason they were here is because of these guys and how hard they’ve played,” Cross said.
“At least we gave them a little something to cheer for.”
When asked what his team will miss most about Hervey, Cross said, “His passing ability — without a doubt.”
Hervey was the focus of the UTA offense. He spread the floor. He saw things that the other Mavericks aren’t yet able to see.
Hervey’s replacement, senior Kennedy Eubanks, started Thursday and scored 14 points Saturday night.
“Kevin is 6-8 and has a 7-foot wingspan,” Cross explained. “He can pass over defenses. Kennedy has to throw through the defense.”
First place for now belongs to Little Rock, but Cross said he’ll try to find “something that works.”
“We’ll just have to take it one game at a time,” he said. “We’re not in the driver’s seat. We just have to think about winning the next game.”
After trimming a 28-point deficit to six, the Mavericks discovered they can do that Saturday night.
Life goes on, even without Kevin Hervey.