JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — With her team holding onto a slim lead in the final minute, Brianna Mullins hit two free throws and Tyisha Amos secured a big rebound to help the University of Central Arkansas Sugar Bears escape Jacksonville State with a 58-54 win at the Pete Mathews Coliseum on Tuesday.
The 5-1 mark is the best six-game start to a season for the Sugar Bears since 2002-03 as an NCAA Division II member.
Leading 56-52 with under a minute to play, the Sugar Bears looked to be in control when Amos grabbed an offensive rebound to keep possession with UCA with 44 seconds to go. But after a timeout, the Gamecocks (2-4) stole the inbounds pass and a layup from Gia Banks cut the UCA lead to two with 36 seconds remaining.
But on a night when the Sugar Bears struggled from the free-throw line as a whole (6 for 12), Mullins converted two both after being fouled with 31 seconds left to push the Sugar Bears back ahead by four. Jacksonville State’s Destany McLin misfired on her attempt to cut into the UCA lead, and Amos was there again to grab the rebound and the Sugar Bears ran out the clock for their second road win of the season.
“This was a huge road win for our young team,” said UCA assistant coach Rusty Laverentz. “They battled all the way through, fought through some adversity and came back and made the plays they needed to to hold on at the end. Brianna wants the ball in her hands, and she’s got ice water in her veins. She went and got the ball, stepped up at the line and said ‘I got these coach, don’t worry about it.’”
The Gamecocks eventually gained an advantage for the first time early in the second half, twice pulling ahead by one, and remaining tied at 39 with just over 13 minutes to go. The Sugar Bears eventually built the lead back to as many as seven with 5:24 left, and after a basket from Amos on an assist from Jameka Watkins led by six up until the final 90 seconds, when JSU scored the next four to make it a two-point game in the last minute before Mullins’ free throws.
“Our bench came up huge,” Laverentz said. “Ty had some huge rebounds at the end, Jameka made some big plays for us, and they gave us a spark. Our bench players did a great job of playing defense, getting rebounds, making tips and steals. They did a heck of a job.”
Courtney Duever had eight points and seven rebounds in the first half en route to team highs of 14 points and 11 rebounds for her second straight double-double and third of the season. Mullins had 13 points, including going 5 of 6 at the free throw line on a night when the rest of the team was just 1 for 6, and six assists. Micah Rice was limited to just two points, but had six rebounds, six assists and two steals while logging 34 minutes. Terai Sadler had eight points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field.
Amos came off the bench to grab five rebounds in 14 minutes, and Watkins had her best game of the season with six points, three assists and two steals in 21.
The win was the eighth for the Sugar Bears against teams from the Ohio Valley Conference since moving to Division I, and third on the road. It was the first meeting between UCA and JSU.
The Sugar Bears will face another OVC foe on Saturday when they travel to Austin Peay before returning home for their final four non-conference games against Southern Illinois, Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Philander Smith.