A season full of highs and lows will continue for the men’s basketball team (16-15, 12-6) when it takes the court in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The Mavericks overcame a slow start to the season to clinch the second seed in the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championship. Chemistry was an issue the team had to deal with as it dropped nine of its first 13 games.
“You want to be one on the court, and spending time off the court is a big part of that,” junior guard Edric Dennis said. “Early in the season, we weren’t really hanging out like that, and we took it upon ourselves to start hanging out. We just got closer.”
UTA was able to turn its season around when Sun Belt Conference play opened in early January. The team dropped its first two conference games against Georgia Southern University and Georgia State University at home but managed to bounce back and win eight of its next nine games.
The winning streak helped propel the Mavericks to first place in the league in the early part of February. A midway slump brought the team back to earth as it lost three straight games, falling to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Arkansas State University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The Mavericks were able to finish conference play on a strong note when they won their last four games, including a commanding 81-73 victory over Texas State University, an in-state rival. The win, coupled with a Georgia State triumph over Georgia Southern, gave UTA the second seed in the conference tournament.
UTA was able to lock up a spot in the tournament semifinals, despite being picked by the Sun Belt Coaches’ Preseason Poll to finish eleventh in league play. Now the Mavericks are looking at their experienced players to give the team a push into the NCAA tournament.
Dennis and junior guard DJ Bryant are two of six returners from last season’s squad that saw its season end in the Sun Belt tournament final after a 74-61 loss to Georgia State. Both players said they learned valuable lessons from the experience, and they want to bring those experiences to the team.
“It’s tough, it’s a lot of games in a short amount of hours,” Bryant said. “The coaches are doing a really good job right now taking care of our bodies and preparing us.”
Dennis, who sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, said he grew from watching his teammates fall in the championship game.
“I saw what and what not to do,” Dennis said. “We are a young team, so I’m gonna share some of those experiences with them.”
Junior guard Brian Warren is one of the newer members of the team who brings unique experience when playing in a championship tournament setting. The transfer from Tyler Junior College led his team to a NJCAA Region XIV championship and a berth in the national tournament.
Although the playing level between a junior college and a university is different, Warren said he can use his knowledge to help lead the team down the stretch.
“I want to do better than what I did last year,” Warren said. “You’ve gotta bring your all every night because any team can beat you any given night.”
The men’s basketball team will look to push past its semifinal game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans.