The University of Central Arkansas Bears moved to 1-0 in Southland Conference play on the backs of a game-high and a career high.
The Bears (7-7, 1-0 SLC) fought hard against the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Islanders (3-8, 0-1 SLC), getting just their second win against the Islanders ever with an 81-69 win Thursday at the Farris Center.
UCA hasn't beaten Corpus Christi since a 76-67 win over the Islanders on Jan. 19, 2013.
But this year’s Bears team is different than in the past, it uses a variety of players and hasn’t lost at home in five contests thus far in the 2017-18 campaign.
Thursday’s had the Bears trail early, but clawed back, eventually tying the game and taking the lead.
However, it wasn’t until an emphatic dunk in the waning seconds of the first half by UCA senior Mathieu Kamba, which left a Corpus Christi player posterized.
At that moment, things started to pick up for the Bears, and they left the Islanders in the rear view mirror.
“That dunk was a big play and really got us going,” UCA coach Russ Pennell said. “[Kamba’s] such a special young man. He’s so unassuming. His game speaks so loud. He puts up solid numbers and he’s having a strong senior year.”
Kamba’s dunk put UCA up by 12, which was the largest lead for the Bears to that point.
Kamba finished with 13.
UCA continued to play strong in the second half, increasing the lead to 18 points with 8:18 left in the game.
Junior Thatch Unruh finished with 20 points, which tied a previous career he has achieved twice.
He scored 20 against UCLA on Nov. 15 of this season, and scored 20 against Abilene Christian on Feb. 9 of this year, during the 2016-17 season.
UCA freshman 7-footer Hayden Koval finished with a career-high seven blocks, which he achieved in a Nov. 21 game against South Carolina State. His seven blocks also tied a program record.
“He’s a weapon on the defensive end,” Pennell said. “I thought he had a couple bad calls. He probably should have had eight or nine blocks. Nonetheless, his numbers are steady and they’re going to go up and up.”
Bears senior Jordan Howard, who only trails Oklahoma’s Trae Young’s 28.7 points per game finished with 18 points, but also added five rebounds, five assists and five steals. He averaged 24.8 points per game prior to Thursday’s game.
Islanders senior Jospeh Kilgore finished with a game-high 23 points, while freshman Sean Rhea finished with 16.
Pennell credited Corpus Christi on its toughness.
“I think Corpus Christi is one of those teams that their record is a little deceiving, even in their losses,” he said. “They took Georgia to three points. Willis Wilson is one of the better coaches. I’ve known him for years, and I told our players that they have a lot of pride and a lot of tradition.
“They are always tough on the inside game. I thought our guys battled back and used some grit and some toughness. We answered every time something went wrong for us. That’s the formula for winning conference games. We want to be in first place in conference when this day is over.”
The Bears start conference play 1-0 and look to face a tough challenge Sunday on the back half of a doubleheader when the Southeastern Louisiana Lions come to town.
The Lions finished third in the Southland Conference preseason poll.
Sunday’s game starts at 3 p.m.