With a school record of 30 wins, the University of Arkansas Little Rock Men’s Basketball Team returned home from Denver on Sunday, after being eliminated in the NCAA tournament. The team advanced into the second round of the tournament for the second time in school history.
More than 100 fans congregated outside the Jack Stephens Center on a chilly Sunday afternoon to await the return of their beloved Little Rock Trojans.
Margaret Gates of Little Rock estimates she’s been to just about every home game this season. And she loved watching the team’s two NCAA tournament games, one a narrow double overtime victory against Purdue, the other a 17-point loss to Iowa State.
“It's the scrappiest bunch I've ever seen play. You could tell they they just had such passion,” she said.
“It was just so exciting to see how hard they tried.”
Eleven-year old Anthony Stephens came with his dad Kenny Stephens and held a sign bearing the hashtag, #LittleRocksTeam. He had no disappointments about the end of the Trojans' season.
“They were great. I loved them. Coming back against Purdue was amazing. Amazing,” he said. The Trojans overcame a 14-point deficit with four minutes left against Purdue on Thursday night and eventually won 85-83, largely benefiting from Little Rock senior guard Josh Hagins, who scored 31 points.
Another fan, Toni Carr joined the crowd with her granddaughter Jaelyn Petty, who held a sign reading "Welcome Home Trojans."
“We were screaming and yelling through the first game and screaming and yelling through the second game,” said Carr. “I really thought they would pull it out for the second game and [I'm] still proud of them even if they didn't.”
Arriving at the Stephens Center from the airport, players got off the bus; the school fight song accompanied the crowd’s resounding cheers; and first-year head coach Chris Beard told reporters it was “an awesome welcome.”
“We're so appreciative of everybody in the community and on campus. I think back to that first game in early November here at home and where we were then and where we are now. I think the program's in great shape,” he said.
Even with a national eye on the Trojans’ successful season, Beard says he has no intention of leaving anytime soon.
“My mind's in Little Rock, Arkansas. My mind's getting on recruiting. We got to get some players to replace these great guys we're losing,” he said.
Four seniors are departing. But Beard said a “culture” has been established with remaining team members and they are now “part of the fight.”
Disclaimer: KUAR is licenced to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. This post was edited at 3:51pm on March 21st, 2016.