KATY, Texas — The perennial postseason team, Stephen F. Austin, ended the tournament run of the University of Central Arkansas Bears, 86-64, Thursday to advance to the semifinals against No. 2 seed Nicholls State.
SFA was making its 13th consecutive appearance and 22nd overall, while UCA was in just its third SLC Tournament.
The Bears (17-16), who had won the school’s first tournament game on Wednesday, may or may not have ended their season with the loss. There is a possibility the Bears could receive an invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) tournament next week.
“We think we have an opportunity, possibly in the CBI,’ said UCA head coach Russ Pennell, who led the Bears to an NCAA Division I-best 17 victories in his fourth season. “We have been in contact, but haven’t gotten an official offer yet. But the indications are we are in the running and we think we have a great shot of getting in. Hopefully we’ll know something within the next 24 hours or so so we can make arrangements to get where we’re going."
Tthe third-seeded Lumberjacks (26-6) beat the Bears by 20-plus points for the second time in less than a month after UCA won the first meeting of the season, 100-92. The SFA defense shut down the UCA offense, limiting SLC Player of the Year Jordan Howard to a season-low 10 points — none in the second half — and holding the Bears to 38.8-percent shoo
The biggest issue for the Bears was rebounding as the Lumberjacks held a 45-24 overall advantage and pulled down 20 offensive rebounds, outscoring the Bears 22-5 in second-chance points.
“We got beat by a better team," said Pennell. “They were faster than us, they were stronger than us. And the only thing we can do about that is get bigger and faster and stronger. They have been the standard in this league for several years now, and they’re what every team wants to be. And we’re getting closer to that, but we’re obviously not there yet."
Howard, the record-setting guard from Chandler, Ariz., finished with 10 points, giving him double figures in every game this season and in 118 of his 122 career games. He scored 43 points against the Lumberjacks in UCA’s win at the Farris Center on Jan. 24. Fellow senior Mathieu Kamba from Calgary, Alberta, finished with a team-high 14 points and team-high 6 rebounds, while redshirt freshman Jared Chatham provided a spark off the bench in the second half and scored nine points.
“My plight as a coach in this business has always been to build a program," Pennell said. And I’ve rarely ever built a program and got to see it through. And that’s what is exciting to me about UCA is that I think we have it on solid footing. We haven’t arrived yet, we’re not Stephen F. Austin yet. But we’ve closed the gap. I think we have grown, we’re competitive now, I think the opponents know that we’re a legitimate team. We’ve recruited well.
“And the fact that we won 17 games... that was the total of the first three years. So we won as many games this year as we won in the first three years. I think that’s a big thing and something we need to hang our hat on."