Heading to Thibodaux, Louisiana, for the final time as Southland Conference members, the Central Arkansas men’s basketball team hopes to be on the opposite side of the win/loss column than the previous meeting against Nicholls.
The Bears (3-15, 2-8 SLC) found themselves on the losing end of a 74-72 back and forth contest to the Colonels (12-6, 9-2 SLC) on Jan. 16 at the Farris Center.
Nicholls gained control of the game midway through the second half and held tightly to the lead until UCA grabbed it back with 4:37 remaining.
With the Bears forced to foul across the final seconds of the game, which sent the Colonels to the free-throw line, there wasn’t much more UCA could do, especially with Nicholls knocking down shots from the charity stripe.
The Bears two healthy seniors guard Rylan Bergersen and forward Jared Chatham posted big games with Bergersen leading all scorers with 24 points and Chatham posting a 14-point, 18-rebound double-double.
It was a game UCA could have very well won with two more players in double figures and a 41-35 rebounding advantage.
But coach Anthony Boone attributed it to lost possessions in the second half.
“But just a few possessions down the stretch where we took some ill-advised shots, some bad shots, was the difference in the game,” Boone said postgame.
The Colonels narrowly shot better from beyond the 3-point arc and from the field and turned the ball over four fewer times.
That, along with those lost possessions hurt UCA’s chances.
In hindsight, that game could have snapped a two-game losing streak for the Bears and set UCA on a different course.
However, it was the Bears’ third straight loss among eight straight losses that dates back to UCA’s Jan. 9 loss to Sam Houston.
The eight-game losing streak now pits UCA in a three-way tie for 10th place amongst a myriad of teams fighting to be among the conference’s top eight to qualify for the Southland Conference Tournament, which begins March 10.
The Bears are 1.5 games out of eighth place with six more contests to go.
Ahead is a Nicholls team that has trended in the opposite direction.
At 9-2 in conference play, the Colonels sit in fourth place, but a half-game out of first place in the conference.
Nicholls’ two SLC losses have come at the hands of 10-1 Sam Houston.
Both UCA and Nicholls faced mid-week Wednesday postponements because of inclement weather, meaning both last played last Saturday.
The Colonels were pushed in a more recent matchup at Southeastern Louisiana in an 86-84 overtime win, while the Bears had one of its worst losses this season as Sam Houston throttled UCA in a 97-57 victory.
The Bears will have to wrangle in Nicholls’ top four scorers from the last meeting and on the season if they want a chance to win.
Senior guard Ty Gordon, who scored 11 in the last matchup, leads the Colonels with 14.4 points per game, followed by junior forward Najee Garvin’s 13.3 points per game, who scored 16 in the previous game.
Senior guards Kevin Johnson and Andre Jones (17 and 12 in the previous matchup) score 10.1 and 9.9, respectively.
Garvin is the leading rebounder at 6.7 per game, while Gordon leads the team in assists with 68 and Johnson leads the team in steals with 40.
Senior center Ryghe Lyons leads the team in blocks with 29.
Bergersen leads the Bears with 16.6 points per game, 71 assists and 22 steals, while Chatham leads the team in rebounds with 6.3 per game and junior forward SK Shittu leads the team with eight blocks.
The game is scheduled to tip off at 5 p.m. Saturday in Thibodaux, Louisiana. The game will be broadcast on ESPN+ as well as 91.3 FM.