The Lubbock Christian University men climbed back into the Heartland Conference basketball race over the previous couple of weeks by winning four consecutive conference home games.
As that stretch of games at the Rip Griffin Center was ending, LCU coach Todd Duncan challenged the Chaparrals to be more than just hard to beat at home. They did something constructive with the message.
LCU (9-10, 5-3) has a big game Saturday at No. 17 Arkansas-Fort Smith (17-3, 6-3), big in part because the Chaps beat Newman 83-73 on Thursday night in Wichita, Kansas. Duncan, whose team was 4-9 after December, laid it out for his players after they strung together January home wins against Texas A&M International, St. Mary’s, St. Edward’s and Oklahoma Christian.
“We said the next step is to do this on the road,” Duncan said, “and so we talked about that to our guys, presented it as the next challenge. We’ve played so many good teams on the road, I told them, ‘This isn’t something we can’t do. It’s just a matter of will we do it.’
“Guys have stayed the course, persevered through some tough losses. That’s why I thought it was good when the going got tough (Thursday) night, we stepped up and made some plays.”
Both ends of Saturday’s LCU-UAFS doubleheader have major implications. The opener between the No. 2 LCU women (18-1, 7-0) and Arkansas-Fort Smith (14-6, 7-1) at 1 p.m. is a battle for the conference lead. Newman (13-8, 4-3), whom the Lady Chaps beat on Thursday, is the only other Heartland women’s team with as few as three conference losses.
The men’s game tips off at 3 p.m. In the men’s LCU-UAFS eight-game series history, neither team had won on the other’s home court until the Lions secured a 75-69 victory Dec. 2 in Lubbock.
“We feel like we’re much improved from that time,” Duncan said, “but I would say they are as well.”
By winning five of its past six, LCU has scratched its way back into contention. No. 22 Dallas Baptist (16-3, 6-2) leads the conference by one-half game over Arkansas-Fort Smith, followed by LCU and Rogers State (14-6, 5-3), who are tied for third and one game out of the lead.
The Chaps are averaging 87.3 points in their past four victories as an array of guards are providing scoring support around junior center Brennen Fowler. In the victory Thursday, the Chaps got 21 points from Isaac Asrat, 16 from Ja’Qualyn Gilbreath, 15 from Marcos Schuster, 13 from Fowler and 10 from Kentton Williams. The two teams went into the game with identical season and conference records.
“I thought we played really well probably three-fourths of the game,” Duncan said. “We shot our free throws really well and got key stops when we needed them. Like you have to do on the road, we answered some runs that they made and were able to keep them at bay, get them into a fouling game and make free throws.”
Former Oklahoma guard Darrion Strong-Moore leads UAFS in scoring at 14.6 points per game. Next behind the 6-foot-1 senior are 6-4 senior DaVaunta Thomas (13.4) and 6-5 senior Ladarius Coleman (11.8).
Arkansas-Fort Smith is 12-0 this season at its home venue, the Stubblefield Center.
“They’re probably one of the top fan supports in our league,” Duncan said. “Being a one-university town and kind of a smaller town, they tend to support them pretty well. They’re having such a good year, I’m sure it doesn’t hurt.”
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