When Arkansas State anthropologists sift through the ancient scrolls and discover the 2021-2022 basketball season, the twin specters of ULM and Troy will haunt them most. Both games seemed destined for victory courtesy of second half, double-digit leads and a monster performance from star forward Norchad Omier only to be tragically lost by a single score. A win over both could have secured a solid (if not spectacular) regular season for head coach Mike Balado. Instead, the Red Wolves are currently three-losses deep in a four game stretch and now face surging Texas State in San Marcos on Thursday.
When the Red Wolves hop aboard their flight to Texas, they will have to leave the disappointment of that Alabama swing (which included a ker-thumping at the hands of the South Alabama Jaguars) unattended at the gate. The baggage is too heavy. The contents superfluous. No need for the weighted memories of poor passes, missed dunks, and untimely technical fouls on this trip.
Pack the uni and clean underwear in a duffle, and move on.
It behoves A-State to travel light to San Marcos, where the Bobcats will attempt to bog the Red Wolves down with stifling defense while sharpshooting wunderkind Caleb Assbury nails threes from all points of the court and Isiah Small gobbles boards inside the paint.
Since losing to Arkansas State in Jonesboro, the Bobcats have won 5 of six while gaining signature contributions from a potpourri of its roster. The diversity of skills has proven useful, as Texas State swept past Louisiana and ULM last week without the injured Nighael Ceasar (concussion protocol)and his 59% shooting. Who do you prepare for when confronting Texas State? How about everybody?
Not helping in the least is a sudden rash to injuries to Arkansas State. Starters Desi Sills (hurt his back after absorbing a flagrant against Troy) and Keyon Wesley sat with ailments against the Jaguars in Mobile, where Caleb Fields received an ankle injury seven minutes into the first half. Without those three in the lineup, Norchad Omier is Gary Cooper in High Noon, beseeching the townsfolk for help as the train rolls in whistling foul. Omier was limited to just over 20 minutes of play on Saturday.
How serious the injuries are anyone’s guess. “They’re day-to-day,” said Balado during the Tuesday presser. “Wesley and Sills practiced. Fields did not. They have to be 100% before I let them play.”
So who does play? Balado said that the three guys he needs to step up most are Avery Felts, Malcolm Farrington and Markise Davis – all of whom saw extended minutes on Saturday. Also mentioned, freshman Mario Fantina, who hit three of five shots on Saturday.
“Fantina has stayed ready and consistent. When his number was called, he was ready to perform,” said Balado. In another life, Fantina led his team in the Croatian Junior League Finals averaging 12.8 points, 3.9 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
Overall, Balado liked the attitude displayed by the short-staffed Red Wolves after the lost to the Jaguars – angry, not defeated. When ULM upset Arkansas State in Jonesboro, the team learned from the film and applied the lesson to the Cajuns.
One hopes that the same tactic will be used against Texas State.
PHOTO CREDIT: Troy Athletic Department