JONESBORO — Arkansas State played at the pace head coach Mike Balado wanted to see Saturday afternoon.
The Red Wolves routed Louisiana-Monroe 93-72 to complete a two-game sweep of the Warhawks at First National Bank Arena. ASU finished with its highest point total in a home Sun Belt Conference game since scoring 94 against Western Kentucky in the 2004-05 season.
“The way our team played today was exceptional,” Balado said. “I think that was the best game we’ve played since I’ve been the coach here, top to bottom, from every person who came in the game whether they played two minutes or they played 22 minutes. Every person came in and gave us something.”
ASU held on for a 74-72 victory Friday night for its first win of the season against a Division I opponent. Saturday’s victory enabled the Red Wolves to finish with a season split with the Warhawks after losing twice to ULM two weeks earlier in Monroe, La.
Senior guard Marquis Eaton said the Red Wolves (5-6, 2-2 Sun Belt) will gain confidence from this weekend’s sweep of the Warhawks (4-9, 2-4 Sun Belt).
“I felt like we had to learn how to win,” said Eaton, who had 17 points and 10 assists Saturday. “We beat the non-Is, but that’s what we’re supposed to do. ... We played Pine Bluff and down the stretch we didn’t make free throws, we fouled at the end. It’s different little stuff like that and now, we got the win last night at the buzzer. I felt like that was big to win it like that. We’re learning how to win and that gets overlooked a lot.”
ASU attacked the paint relentlessly while scoring 54 points in Saturday’s second half. The Red Wolves shot 58.6 percent from the field (17-of-29) and were 17-of-23 from the free throw line after halftime.
For the day, ASU shot 52.6 percent (30-of-57) from the field and 27-of-33 from the free throw line. Balado was especially pleased to see the Red Wolves finish with only 10 turnovers while playing at a quick tempo.
“Today what we didn’t have was turnovers that were unforced, no moving screens, no travels, no stepping out of bounds or leg kicks,” Balado said. “We just played.”
The Red Wolves scored the first 12 points of the game, only to see the Warhawks answer with a 23-6 run. ASU closed the half on a 7-2 run to lead 39-36 at halftime.
ULM managed to stay in the game for 14-plus minutes in the second half, but the Warhawks wilted down the stretch as the Red Wolves closed the game with a 16-2 surge.
Freshman forward Norchad Omier finished with a double-double of 22 points and 17 rebounds. Omier personally outrebounded the Warhawks 12-11 in the second half, helping ASU build a 44-25 rebounding advantage for the game.
“I think it starts with our guards because they’re the ones who push the pace and they allow him to get those numbers, but Norchad is going to play the way he does,” Balado said. “I don’t care if you’re playing on the playground, if you’re playing in a three-on-three, hoop-it-up tournament, if you’re playing in the rec (center), he does what he does. He’s going to play with extreme energy, extreme passion and he has a knack for rebounding.”
Caleb Fields added 19 points, six rebounds and five assists. Keyon Wesley cacme off the bench to score 13 points. Russell Harrison and Koreem Ozier scored 18 points each to lead ULM.
The Red Wolves connected for 11 3-pointers in Friday’s victory. Freshman Malcolm Farrington was 5-of-11 from the 3-point line for a season-high 15 points.
Fields led ASU with 19 points, Caleb London added a season-high 10 points and Omier grabbed 12 rebounds. Ozier finished with 22 points for ULM.
ASU led 40-36 at halftime Friday and only trailed briefly in the second half. The Red Wolves took their largest lead at 74-68 with 40 seconds left in the game, but the Warhawks cut the lead to two on free throws.
Next up for the Red Wolves is a trip to Louisiana-Lafayette Friday and Saturday. The Red Wolves will host Texas-Arlington Jan. 29-30.
“Losing two to Monroe there and then winning two here by the way we did, you can see the improvement of this team,” Balado said. “I’m excited to move forward and I’m very, very proud of them.”