Despite having a minus-nine disadvantage on the offensive boards and a minus-15 on second chance points, the University of Central Arkansas used a strong performance behind the 3-point arc and on the defensive end to pick up a 75-68 win over the Lamar Cardinals.
"We won it on the defensive end,” UCA coach Russ Pennell. "I was really happy with our defense. I wish we would have rebounded a little better but they only beat us by four on the glass, and a lot of those offensive rebounds came late. I was happy with the defensive performance.”
Lamar (8-9, 1-3 Southland Conference) outrebounded UCA 17-8 on the offensive glass, but the Bears (7-10, 2-2 SLC) held the advantage 22-17 on defensive rebounds.
The disadvantage on the offensive glass caused UCA to battle back and forth with Lamar throughout much of the first half, eventually taking a 34-32 lead with 1:08 left in the first half.
The Bears entered the second half with a lead that they held for much of the second half, surrendering just once when the Cardinals knotted it up at 56 with 8:34 left in the game.
Prior to the tie, UCA built its lead up to as many as nine.
After Lamar tied it up, senior guard Nick Garth split his free throws to take a one-point lead.
However, Bears sophomore guard DeAndre Jones snatched the lead right back with a pair of free throws, taking a 58-57.
From there, UCA built its lead back up to nine with three minutes left, which proved to be insurmountable for Lamar to surpass.
The Bears had four players in double figures, led by senior guard Thatch Unruh’s 14 points, which he converted four of eight 3-point field goals.
He was followed by sophomore guard Matthew Mondesir’s 13 points, and Jones’ and sophomore center Hayden Koval’s 10 points.
UCA was in the sharing mood, tallying 23 seven assists compared to Lamar’s 12.
"The teams I had a Grand Canyon (University) that were really, really good, this was their box score,” Pennell said. "Your leading guy had 14, and then you had a bunch of 8s and 7s and 9s. First of all, your team in engaged all season long because they know they can be a part of that.
“And then you also make your opponent really struggle as to who to guard. So I'm liking the way this thing is shaping up. If we keep defending, we keep rebounding a little better and we can cut our turnovers down just a little bit, this team can be really good by the end of the year.”
Lamar’s Garth led all scorers with 18 points, while junior Christian Barrett nearly had a double-double, tallying 16 points and nine rebounds.
Senior Josh Nzeakor recorded 13 points and eight rebounds.
For the game, the Bears held Lamar to 37.9 percent for the game, including a 30.8 percent shooting in the second half.
UCA junior Jordan Grant came off the bench and provided a spark for the Bears, hitting both attempted 3-point field goals as well as a steal and assist.
"Our guys will tell you in practice he's one of the hardest guys to guard,” Pennell said. "The reason being is he is very, very smart. He was coached very well at Harrison High School by David Stahler, who was a teammate of mine here at UCA. Jordan came in with those kind of fundamentals and he's kind of waited his turn. It's always good when a guy gets rewarded for hard work.
“And the thing I can tell you, I've never come to practice that he wasn't the first guy on the floor. He and Hayden Koval are out there shooting when I walk in the building. So for him to get in, and then have such a big, big impact... I thought he just kind of lit the spark that we needed. I thought he kind of got us going.”
The Bears now hit the road traveling Wednesday to San Antonio, Texas, to face the University of the Incarnate Word.