A first-quarter hole seemingly buried the Central Arkansas Sugar Bears in a 67-58 loss on Saturday in the Farris Center in a fight for the final spot in the Southland Conference Tournament.

That hole was buried against a team the Sugar Bears (11-15, 7-10 SLC) couldn’t afford to lose to in Nicholls State (10-16, 7-10 SLC) in a conference showdown.

Turning the ball over and hitting just 4 of 11 shots caused UCA to fall behind 20-9 after one.

Meanwhile, the Colonels, a team that has now won four in a row, hit 6 of 12, along with all seven free throw attempts to put together a strong opening frame.

With both teams tied at 5-5 with 6:49 left in the first quarter, Nicholls started to pull away, putting together an 11-0 run across the next four minutes to take a 16-5 lead with 2:49 left.

The Sugar Bears finally put up another made basket with 2:12 left in the quarter, now trailing by nine.

The beginning of the second quarter helped the Colonels take a larger lead, opening the second on a 6-2 run over the first 1:12.

But, from that point on, the Sugar Bears began to cut the 28-11 deficit down to five by halftime.

UCA put up a pair of baskets three different times, where the Colonels answered at the line.

But, over that span, the Sugar Bears scored 16 points to Nicholls’ six.

UCA continued to chip away, opening the second half with a pair of layups from sophomore guard Carley Hudspeth and freshman forward Terri Crawford to bring the score to 32-31 in the Colonels’ favor.

A 3-pointer by Nicholls sophomore guard Lona-Anh Johnson brought the lead out to four, but it was the Sugar Bears again making the game close with a pair of converted free throws by junior guard/forward Briana Trigg and a post hook shot by junior forward Hannah Langhi to tie the game at 35 with 7:45 left in the third.

However, Langhi’s post hook was the last points that was scored by UCA for the next seven minutes as the Colonels reeled off another big run, scoring nine unanswered and bringin the score to 44-35 with 2:38 left in the third.

The Sugar Bears finally got off the schneid when Langhi split a pair of free throws, making the score 44-36 with 45.7 seconds left.

Starting the fourth quarter, UCA began to chip away once again, pulling within four with 6:19 left in the game.

But, as was par for the course through much of the game, the Colonels once again pushed its lead back out to 10 with 1:19 left, all but spelling doom for the Sugar Bears.

Unlike the previous times Nicholls pulled away, UCA could not get back into the thick of the game as it was too little too late.

With the loss, the Sugar Bears and the Colonels are tied for the final spot in the Southland Conference.

“How are you going to lose on your home floor with a spot in the playoffs up for grabs,” UCA coach Sandra Rushing said. “We didn’t play up to our standard today.”

After the first quarter, the Sugar Bears outscored Nicholls 49-47, but the early deficit caused too much trouble.

For the game, Johnson led all scorers with 23 points, while senior guard Tykeria Williams and senior forward Chrystal Ezechukwu finished with 11.

The Sugar Bears were led by Langhi’s 13 points, followed by Hudspeth’s 11 and senior guard Taylor Sells’ 10.

UCA hits the road for the final time during the regular season after a week off with a matchup against a talented 19-5, 11-4 Abilene Christian team that beat the Sugar Bears 74-64 in the Farris Center on Jan. 25.

UCA and ACU are set to battle at 1 p.m. Feb. 29 in Abilene, Texas.

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