University of Central Arkansas basketball team closed 2016 on different ends of the spectrum Saturday at the Farris Center.
The Bears, who entered the game 1-12, stunned preseason favorite Sam Houston State, 67-65, to begin Southland Conference play at 1-0.
Lamar (8-3, 1-0) upended the defending conference champion Sugar Bears (8-3, 0-1), 70-56.
UCA teams continue their holiday SLC home stand Monday with a doubleheader against Northwestern State with the Sugar Bear game beginning at 6 p.m.
Because of holiday deadlines for the Log Cabin's print edition, Monday's results will be posted online at thecabin.net.
Freshman Aaron Weidenaar nailed three free throws with 1.5 seconds left and the Bears secured a hard-fought 67-65 victory over the Sam Houston State Bearkats in their Southland Conference opener on Saturday afternoon at the Farris Center.
Weidenaar, a freshman from Bozeman, Mont., was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 1.5 seconds left and sank all three foul shots, his first three makes of the season, to help the Bears win their league opener for just the second time in 11 seasons in the SLC. UCA broke a nine-game losing streak that came against a tough nonconference schedule. The back-and-forth game was tied 12 times and there were 10 lead changes, including the final one with less than two seconds on the clock.
"He (Weidenaar) was having a tough shooting night," said UCA coach Russ Pennell, "but I felt like he was going to make a shot of some kind. I didn't know it would be free throws, but I called him over at one point in the second half and told him this, 'you stay ready because you're going to be a hero.' And having no idea how it was going to work out.
"But I thought what might happen was they would leave him alone and he'd get a wide-open look. I wanted him more than anything to have confidence that I had confidence in him. And I was glad he didn't hesitate on that shot. I thought Aaron didn't look like a freshman out there tonight. Just the poise.
"It was funny because whenever they (the officials) were looking at the monitor, I told him, whether its two or three (free throws), you're going to have a chance step up there. But do yourself a favor and make the first one. And he laughed. And I don't know if that broke the tension or what but he's such a cool customer, I had a feeling that he would make all three of them."
Junior guard Jordan Howard topped the Bears with 29 points, hitting five of eight from 3-point range and eight of eight from the free-throw line. UCA finished 25 of 29 for a season-best 86.2 percent at the line. Junior Mathieu Kamba added 16 points (6 of 8 at the line) and senior Derreck Brooks and junior Ethan Lee pulled down 14 rebounds each, both career highs.
SHSU (9-6, 0-2) led 64-60 with 2:29 to play before UCA (1-12, 1-0) got a pair of free throws from Howard at the 2:10 mark and a jumper from Kamba with 1:38 to play to tie it at 64. UCA's defense forced a shot clock violation before the teams traded missed jumpers and UCA turned the ball over with 11 seconds left and fouled SHSU's John Dewey. The sophomore guard made just one of two at the line for a 65-64 lead with 6.7 seconds remaining.
The Bears inbounded the ball, advanced the ball and hit Weidenaar in the right corner and he was fouled by Jovante' Spivey at the buzzer. After an officials' review, 1.5 seconds was put on the clock. Weidenaar then stepped up and made all three for the 67-65 lead. SHSU then misfired on a long three-point attempt at the buzzer.
Weidenaar had also ended the first half by hitting a 3-pointer that gave the Bears a 30-28 lead at the break and some much-needed momentum after a half that saw them lead by as much as eight points and trail by as much as four.
"I really think that we saw some of the residuals from the preseason," said Pennell, who scheduled the toughest non-conference slate in UCA history this season. "Because I think when you've been in harsh environments and big crowds, even though you might not have played the way you wanted to, there are still some things you draw from. And I thought our poise was good.
"The thing I was proud about, and I told our guys, we won that game just on heart and toughness. I told them, here's your mind-staggering stats on how well you played... we shot 30 percent and turned it over 22 times. And I said, but you won the game because you were the aggressor and you were tough-minded, and that's the thing I'm proudest of.
"And that's what it takes if you're going to be a good program. The programs that are good, they just work harder than everybody else. What we kept telling them at all the timeouts was, don't go to a bad place. Those things that happened last month, they're gone. This is a new day. Don't think about it, don't linger on, 'oh, here we go again.'
"And I thought they did a great job at time outs of coaching each other through that. We can do this, we're fine, let's get a stop. I think that was a big key tonight."
Howard, a junior from Chandler, Ariz., pushed his UCA career three-point record to 218, hitting 3 of 5 in the first half for a team-high 15 points at the break. Lee (10) and Brooks (9) had a combined 19 rebounds at halftime, just two less than the Bearkats had as a team. It was Howard's 69th game in 71 career games to make a three-pointer and his 54th consecutive game with at least one.
A 13-point Lamar run spanning the third and fourth quarters proved to be too much for Central Arkansas to overcome.
In the final period, the Sugar Bears were unable to pull any closer than 12 as the Cardinals outscored UCA 20-16 in the quarter en route to their fourth win in five tries against the Sugar Bears.
Lamar, the nation's leader in turnover margin at +10.1 per game, held true to form on Saturday as they forced the Sugar Bears into 18 turnovers – nearly 50 percent over their season average – while committing only 11.
Kierra Jordan, Brianna Mullins and Taylor Strickland each had 11 points for the Sugar Bears, with Jordan pulling down a team-high eight rebounds. Raquel Logan added eight points, seven rebounds, and tied Jordan for the team lead with two blocks.
Moe Kinard, Lamar's leading scorer at 14.7 points per game coming in, led the Cardinals with 25 points while Chastadie Barrs added 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.