Free throw shooting was a theme for much of the night in the Central Arkansas Bears 77-76 home loss to Stephen F. Austin on Wednesday at the Farris Center.
Throughout the game, the Lumberjacks (14-3, 5-1 Southland Conference) had trouble hitting from the charity stripe as they shot just 33.3% on 7 of 21 shooting.
But, all they needed was one at the end to pick up the win.
With 4:25 left in the game, the Bears (5-13, 4-3 SLC) found themselves trailing 74-66.
The score remained that way until 2:25 left in the game when UCA junior guard Rylan Bergersen stopped a ball from going back across the court for a turnover and saved it to a teammate.
Then, he managed to get the ball back to score on a layup.
This jumpstarted a comeback for the Bears.
“Our guys keep growing and making plays like that,” UCA interim head coach Anthony Boone said. “We have to keep making that a part of what we do when we’re on the floor. Seeing another play like that is great. We gotta keep on it and making plays.”
After taking advantage of a pair of SFA turnovers, the Bears climbed back to a four-point deficit with 2:02 left in the game.
Then, it was a UCA turnover that led to a layup on the Lumberjacks end by senior guard John Comeaux that gave SFA a six-point lead once again with 58 seconds left.
UCA freshman guard/forward Jaxson Baker then hit a 3-pointer in the corner in front of the Bears bench to bring the score down to a one possession game with 49 seconds left.
Then, UCA sophomore guard/forward Eddy Kayouloud picked up his fifth foul, which sent SFA junior forward Gavin Kensmil to the line with 27 seconds left.
Just as he did on a previous trip to the line one minute earlier, Kensmil missed both free throws, allowing for another UCA possession as Baker secured the rebound.
Then, junior center Hayden Koval knocked down a 3-pointer at the top of the 3-point arc with 11.5 seconds left in the game to tie the game at 76.
It was the first of six attempts that Koval hit from 3-point land.
Then, on the Lumberjacks’ next possession, senior guard Kevon Harris drew Bergersen’s fifth foul with two seconds left, sending him to the line.
Harris struggled at the line up to this point, hitting two of six prior to this trip, but he split this pair, giving SFA a one-point lead with two seconds left.
An offensive rebound on Harris’ second miss from the line sealed UCA’s fate in this game.
Though they struggled throughout the night from the line, the Lumberjacks hit the one they needed to win the game.
“I don’t think we shot the ball from the free-throw line quite as well as we had been, but it was still a decent percentage,” Boone said. “The second half wasn’t great and they didn’t shoot the ball well from there, but they made the one that was needed. It was a great game. Both teams, for the most part, played well. It was a fun game to watch and a fun game to be a part of. I’m disappointed to be on the losing side of it though.”
The Bears were efficient from the free-throw line in the first half, hitting 6 of 7, but only made 5 of 8 in the second half.
Their efficiency at the line in the first half helped UCA climb into a tie at the end of the first half as SFA shot better from the field, hitting at a 53.6% clip, while the Bears made 40.6% of shots.
UCA did struggle in the first half as it trailed by 16 with 5:38 left in the first half.
However, the Bears had erased that deficit by halftime.
The struggles caused Boone to call timeouts earlier than he wanted amongst a strong Farris Center crowd.
“It was a great atmosphere here,” Boone said “It was a great crowd and they were into the game and our guys were into the game. The guys are disappointed and we’re disappointed. We wish we could have had DeAndre (Jones) playing, but even without him, our guys stepped up. The first half is what got us. We had to call a couple of timeouts to get on guys because of their effort and that’s not characteristic of our guys.”
Calling those timeouts caused the Bears to run out of timeouts with 59.4 seconds left in the game.
The Bears were without junior point guard DeAndre Jones, who was injured near the end of Saturday’s 89-82 win over Sam Houston State.
Harris led SFA with 19 points, while junior guard David Kachelries and junior guard Cameron Johnson scored 13 and junior guard Roti Ware scored 12. Harris also had 10 rebounds, giving him a double-double.
The Bears were led by Bergerson’s 19 points, followed by Kayouloud’s 17 points and senior guard Aaron Weidenaar’s 16 points.
UCA will try to shake off the tough loss as it travels Saturday to Thibodaux, Louisiana, to take on Nicholls State.