Warhawks Down Arkansas State, 2-0 in Sun Belt Play

Local Sports

By Paul Letlow, ULMWarhawks.com Online Columnist

MONROE, La. – ULM ran hot and cold Saturday at Fant-Ewing Coliseum yet had enough firepower at home to squeeze out an 85-75 win over Arkansas State. 

“I was really proud that they took a blow, fell down on one knee, didn’t completely fall down and regrouped,” ULM coach Keith Richard said. 

The Warhawks moved to 9-5 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference as four players reached double figures in scoring. Daishon Smith, who scored 42 the last time out, led the Warhawks with 24 points in the win. Michael Erteladded 19 points with JD Williams and Travis Munnings scoring 18 each.  

“We want to stay aggressive,” Munnings said. “Sometimes, our shots might not be falling, but we know how good a shooting team we are. We have to continue to shoot the ball with confidence and do what we do best.” 

ULM saw a 19-point first-half lead disappear as Arkansas State (7-8, 1-1) drew perilously close at three points, 56-53, midway through the second half. Over the final 20 minutes, ULM shot 35.7 percent while the visitors shot 54.8 percent to make their run.

“We’re going to have to live and die with the shooting sometimes,” said Richard, whose team improved to 7-0 at home where the team is averaging better than 85 points.

“Games are full of runs,” Williams said. ”We just have to keep shooting. Coach told us to take open shots and they’ll start falling.”  

Munnings, who added nine rebounds to the cause, came up big throughout the contest.  

“In this particular game, I thought he played really, really well,” Richard said. “He was boarding for us on both ends, made some timely buckets. That’s the kind of junkyard dog Travis that we’re used to.”  

ULM shooters had the hotter hand early.  

Munnings knocked down a 3-pointer to open the game and spearheaded ULM’s 10-3 start with five points. The Warhawks continued to rain 3s, making 6-of-11 while building their advantage to 24-8 with 11:43 to go in the first half. 

Ertel’s runner with 1:29 showing gave ULM its biggest lead at 19, 46-27, and the Warhawks entered halftime up 48-32.  Smith’s 13 points led ULM scorers, with 11 coming from Ertel and nine from Munnings.  

With an Arkansas State 7-0 burst to open the second half, the lead shrunk to 48-39. ULM went scoreless and was 0-for-8 from the floor until a driving dunk by Williams with 16:09 showing.   

“Quietly JD came alive in that second half,” Richard said. “He got to the free-throw line, and he had a nice backdoor cut. All those points were big when you’re struggling and going through a little drought.”

The Red Wolves continued to climb back, whittling the lead to 55-49 on Ty Cockfield’s jumper with 11:57 left in the game as ULM was outscored, 17-7, coming out of the break. Cockfield, who came in percentage points behind Smith for top scorer in the Sun Belt, led his team with 20 points, with 16 coming in the second half. 

“They were attacking the basket with almost reckless abandon off of our misses,” Richard said. “It was hard to stop them in transition because they were just lowering their heads.”

The deficit was down to three when Smith sank a 3 from the top of the circle with 9:15 to go for a 59-53 edge. Then a Smith steal and layup had ULM up 10 at 63-53. 

“Basketball is a game of runs,” Munnings said. “We knew they’d make a run. We knew we had to make a run too.”

The Red Wolves could get no closer than six points in the final six minutes as ULM worked through its cold spell and handled business at the free-throw line. The Warhawks were 24-of-28 overall and 15-of-18 from the line in the second half. 

“I’m proud of two sets of people today,” Richard said. “Our team, I’m more proud of them about today’s win than I am about Thursday’s because we really had to earn this one. That’s what conference play is about. … The other set of people I’m proud of are the people who came to the game. They were loud, they were into it. I hope they enjoyed it and come back.” 

Up next: A pair of Sun Belt Conference road games are upcoming as ULM plays at Georgia Southern on Thursday, Jan. 10 and Georgia State on Saturday, Jan. 12. The Warhawks are back home Jan. 19 to play Louisiana-Lafayette.  

Tailfeathers: Post Youry White, just cleared to return from a preseason knee injury, made his season debut on Saturday in the first half. He registered an assist and a foul in his four minutes. … Ertel reached double figures scoring for the seventh-straight game. He was 10-for-10 from the free-throw line and recorded six of ULM’s 14 assists. … ULM went 1-for-10 from the field to open the second half. … ULM football coach Matt Viator perched with the local sports writers on press row to watch the game.

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