Things were going just swimmingly the moment Desi Sills committed the steal and assist to Norchad Omier, bumping the Red Wolves lead to 10 points over second-place Troy. For the entire evening, Arkansas State seemed two steps ahead of the Trojans, shooting better than 50% and taking the paint away from Efe Odigie. Omier was volcanic, erupting for 16 first half points and playing with a kind of madness that seemed to make victory predetermined. Meanwhile, Marquis Eaton and Caleb Fields were hitting jumpers, Antwon Jackson was proving trouble in the middle, and Coach Mike Balado’s ship was as tight as Mark Hudspeth’s moister-wicking golf shirts.
Then it all fell apart. Two trips to the basket reduced the ten point lead to three, and the Red Wolves couldn’t recover from the blow to its self-esteem.
Give credit to Troy’s Desmond Williams, who nailed six of nine three pointer attempts to keep the game close when the Red Wolves were cruising, and shutting the lid when the Red Wolves ultimately struggled to close escrow. Odigie, the hard-scrabble inside presence for Troy, adjusted in the second half as well, ultimately ending his evening with 19 points and five steals.
Still, victory was within the Red Wolves’ grasp down one bucket with a bit more than a minute on the clock. Two bad turnovers on passes and a blown alley oop later, the Red Wolves were reduced to hoisting a desperation three to win the game. Avery Felts’ effort – heroic as it was – missed its mark, and the Red Wolves were reduced to glumly watching the Trojans celebrate with their fans.
The stats weren’t bad. Arkansas State shot 51% from the floor while The Human Double Double collected 31 points and 11 boards and Desi Sills chipped in 8 points and three steals. But once again, a super-human effort from Omier resulted in a loss, and the Red Wolves squandered another big lead and another opportunity to rise in the Sun Belt standings.
The road doesn’t get easier for Arkansas State, who’s strength of schedule remains the toughest in the Sun Belt. Next up for A-State is up-and-down South Alabama, who pounded UA Little Rock on Thursday night 77-46. This isn’t bad news. When the Red Wolves collapsed against ULM, Louisiana slammed the Trojans of Little Rock 75-51. Precedent has been established.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Special thanks to the Troy Athletic Department and our good fiend Mark Taylor