Arkansas-Little Rock wins Sun Belt crown
NEW ORLEANS >> Roger Woods scored 19 points and Arkansas-Little Rock punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a dominant second half, beating Louisiana-Monroe 70-50 on Sunday in the Sun Belt Tournament final.
Trailing 33-28 at halftime, the Trojans raised their defensive intensity several notches and went on an 18-4 run to take control. Woods gave Arkansas-Little Rock the lead for good at 37-35, faking an outside shot and driving for an emphatic dunk with 15:01 left.
Marcus Johnson Jr. hit an open 3-pointer as the Trojans took their first double-digit lead, 53-42, at the 8:06 mark.
Woods, the tournament MVP, hit eight of 10 shots and added nine rebounds. Johnson scored 14 points for top-seeded Arkansas-Little Rock (29-4), which tied a Sun Belt conference record for wins in a season.
Justin Roberson had 17 points for second-seeded Louisiana-Monroe (20-13), which entered the final on a 10-game winning streak and having won 14 of its last 15 after a 6-11 start.
Getting little room to operate, the flustered Warhawks never recovered after committing four quick turnovers and missing their first six shots of the second half. They hit 6 of 25 after going 14 of 24 in the first half.
The closest they came in the last 8 minutes was nine points, and they could not capitalize on Arkansas-Little Rock's rare mistakes.
When Josh Hagins' pass on the perimeter was intercepted, Louisiana-Monroe gave the ball right back when an outlet pass was tipped off a player's leg and out of bounds.
The Trojans began celebrating after Kemy Osse's 3-pointer from the corner made it 64-50. They entered the tournament with an outside shot at at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament thanks to road victories over San Diego State and Tulsa, but they erased any doubt about their destination.
Johnson Jr., Roberson and Majok Deng of Louisiana-Monroe joined Woods on the all-tournament team along with Louisiana-Lafayette's Shawn Long, the Sun Belt regular season player of the year.
Arkansas-Little Rock: Hagins, the Trojans' leading scorer for the year, had five points and went 2 for 7 from the field. ... Arkansas-Little Rock is returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011 and the second time since 1990.
Louisiana-Monroe: The Warhawks had five chances to finish three-point plays in the first half but missed the free throw on the first four before Roberson finally made one. . Roberson and guard Nick Coppola played all 40 minutes, and coach Keith Richard used only seven players, but he said fatigue was not a factor in the Warhawks' second game in less than 24 hours.
Arkansas-Little Rock: The Trojans will play in the NCAA T.
Louisiana-Monroe: The Warhawks will be in a postseason tournament, probably the CIT or CBI.
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