About two weeks ago, the University of Central Arkansas Bears lost to Abilene Christian on a last-second, length-of-the-court drive and a goaltending call.
Thursday night at Lake Charles, La., things evened out a bit as the Bears’ LaQuentin Miles drove the length of the court for a basket, then hit a free throw with five seconds left to give the Bears a 76-75 victory over McNeese State and break an eight-game road losing streak.
It completed a sweep of the Cowboys and Cowgirls over McNeese State, giving them momentum for Saturday’s games against Nicholls State at Thibodaux, La.
Against the Cowboys, the Bears (5-14, 2-6), who saw a 17-point halftime lead disappear quickly in the second half, got seven 3-pointers and a career-high 23 points from junior guard Aubrey Ball and the game-winning plays from senior guard LaQuentin Miles. UCA was playing without freshman Jalen Jackson (missed bus) and sophomore Tirrell Brown (illness) and dressed out just nine players, six scholarship and three walkons.
After the Cowboys (6-14, 4-4) had gone ahead by four points at 74-70 with just 15 seconds to play, Ball nailed his seventh 3-pointer to get the Bears (5-14, 2-6) within 74-73 with 9.8 remaining. McNeese’s Ledrick Eackles, who had a team-high 21 points, made one of two at the free-throw line with 5.2 on the clock.
Miles, who finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists, drove the length of the court and put in an off-balance layup in the lane at the buzzer while being fouled by Kevin Hardy. The officials reviewed the play before calling the basket good, tying the score at 75, and then put 0.5 seconds back on the clock.
After the five-minute delay for review, Miles stepped to the line and canned the free throw to give the Bears the lead and the victory as Eackles misfired on a desperation 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
"Aubrey is a 3-point shooter, that’s his strength," said UCA coach Clarence Finley. "When they went to that zone and got us a little stagnant, we got him in the game and he knocked down some big 3s. We were 13 of 25 from the 3-point line and we needed all of them, every last one of them.
"On the last play, we told him (Miles) to take it all the way to the basket. We thought they wouldn’t foul him but they did. And he made the basket and then made the big free throw, too."
It broke a five-game losing streak by the Bears.
"In this five-game losing streak, the kids have been playing well. I told them I was proud of them last week, but we still needed to get a win," Finley said." They have bought into what we’re teaching. They know they have to play defense and they know they have to play as a team. DeShone (McClure) wasn’t shooting it well and he took himself out. He took himself out and said ‘Get Aubrey Ball in.’"
UCA had now won three consecutive games in the series, including a triple overtime game last season in Conway and a one-point victory in Lake Charles.
The Sugar Bears (13-6, 7-1) led the Cowgirls (11-8, 4-4) wire to wire in maintaining their hold on first place in the Southland Conference women’s race.
The win was the Sugar Bears’ fifth in a row, and their eighth in nine games.
"I’m very happy to come on the road and get a win like this," said UCA coach Sandra Rushing. "We had a very good first half, I’m not as happy with the second half but a win is a win and I’m proud of how we hung in there. There were a couple times things weren’t going our way and we could have folded and let them back in it, but we kept fighting and I’m very pleased."
In winning in Lake Charles for the third straight season, the Sugar Bears shot 46.9 percent from the field while keeping the Cowgirls to 38.2 percent. UCA held a 38-26 rebounding advantage and took advantage of their free throw opportunities, making 14 of 15 (93.3 percent) while McNeese was just 4 of 9 (44.4).
"I thought that was a big difference in the game," Rushing said. "We hit our free throws and rebounded well. Those are things we have to keep doing. I thought there were some things we could have done better, but we did those things well and I’m pleased with our effort there."
Duever had 15 points and 12 rebounds for her fourth straight double-double, and freshman guard Maggie Proffitt added a game-high 17 points — her highest output of the conference season and most since scoring 18 against Arkansas State on Dec. 21. Fellow freshman Brianna Mullins added 12 points and seven rebounds. Senior guard Micah Rice added five points, five rebounds and three assists, and Brittany Agee had four points to go with her seven rebounds.
The win was the Sugar Bears’ fourth in the last five games against the Cowgirls, improving to 11-5 all-time against McNeese.
(UCA Sports Information contributed to this report)