KATY, Texas — The magical late-season run by the University of Central Arkansas Bears came to an end Thursday in the quarterfinals of the 2019 Southland Conference Tournament.
The seventh-seeded Bears, who had won four of their past five games to reach the quarterfinals for the second straight year, lost their shooting touch in a 79-65 loss to third-seeded Southeastern Louisiana at the Merrell Center.
UCA (14-19) shot 37.7 percent from the field overall and went 9 of 30 (30 percent) from three-point range. Senior Thatch Unruh closed out his career with the 20th double-figure scoring game of the season and the 48th of his career, scoring a game-high 23 points, including going 4 of 9 from 3-point range.
Unruh finished his career with 1,066 career points and 186 career 3-pointers (third all-time at UCA).
“The game was kind of won, honestly, in the first 12 or maybe 15 minutes,” UCA coach Russ Pennell said. "We got off to a pretty good start, and then we hit a little bit of a dry spell. And, I credit Southeastern Louisiana's defense. I don't want to be the guy who comes in here and says we didn't play well. They had a lot to do with that.
"They are a big, strong, physical team, and they're a championship team from last year, so they've got guys who understand what it takes to win at this level. They have two really, really good ingredients in (Marlain) Veal and (Moses) Greenwood that are difficult to play against. And, that's why they won the league last year and were one of the better teams this year.”
The Bears hit three 3-pointers — two by sophomore Hayden Koval, one by senior Tanner Schmit — in the opening four minutes and led 11-7 with 15:40 left in the first half.
From there, the shots stopped falling as the Lions outscored the Bears 29-14 the remainder of the half to grab a 36-25 lead at the break.
UCA shot just 30.4 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes, despite hitting five 3-pointers.
However, the Bears made just a pair of 2-point shots, going 7 of 23 overall.
The Lions shot 50 percent and got 13 points from senior All-SLC forward Greenwood, including 11 consecutive points late in the half.
"Overall I was proud of our effort,” Pennell said. "I thought we didn't quit. I thought in the second half, we got our game going a little bit, we went inside a little bit more. But we were just behind the eight ball a little too much and could never get back to striking distance.”
Following Unruh was Koval, a 7-foot sophomore center, who had his second straight double-double in the tournament with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and added two blocked shots and four steals. Sophomore point guard DeAndre Jones had 11 points, three rebounds and three steals, while sophomore Matthew Mondesir had eight points and a team-high four assists.
Schmit added five points and three rebounds in his final game.
SLU got 22 points from senior forward Moses Greenwood, 15 from senior guard Marlain Veal and 13 from junior guard Von Julien, who was 11 of 12 at the free-throw line.
UCA, which lost seven consecutive games between Jan. 26 and Feb. 23, rallied to make its third straight trip to the SLC Tournament and won its opening game for the second straight season. Unruh, Schmit and Jordan Grant were UCA's three seniors who played their final games on Thursday night.
"I think the good part was tonight showed us what we need to do to move forward,” Pennell said. "Unfortunately these two guys next to me (Unruh and Schmit), who mean everything to me, don't get to be a part of that. But they've had a big impact on my life, on our program, and they're going to be very, very successful people in whatever they decide to do.”
Southeastern advances to face No. 2 seed Abilene Christian at 7:30 p.m. Friday.