Bears fall short again in 81-77 loss

For the second game in a row, the University of Central Arkansas Bears had a chance to pull out a victory in the final minutes but came up just short again Saturday in an 81-77 loss to Northwestern State in Southland Conference play at the Farris Center.

The Bears (3-13, 2-6) overcame a second-half scoring drought of 4:30 to close to within one point twice in the final minute but a charging call on senior Rylan Bergersen with 1.1 seconds on the clock allowed the Demons (5-14, 4-4) to make two final free throws and escape with the win. 

S.K. Shittu 

“It was a good effort, better than the last couple of games we’ve played,’ said UCA head coach Anthony Boone. “We did a lot of good things in the game, but still didn’t make enough plays. We didn’t shoot the ball all that great and we had some really good looks. A couple of guys did, and that was encouraging. And the second game in a row SK got his career high in rebounds, so that was great. Just great effort. And man, he had great effort there at the end to block that shot to give us a chance to stay in the game.

“Rylan got a career high in assists, and that was great. We were making plays for each other, but there were just a few possessions where we should have looked to make plays for each other and we didn’t. That was the difference in the game.’ 

The Bears, who led by two at halftime, matched the Demons basket for basket for the first seven minutes of the second half before NSU put together a 12-0 scoring run from the 11:53 mark to the 8:00 mark. UCA sophomore Collin Cooper, who led the Bears with 17 points in just his third game back from injury, nailed back-to-back three-pointers to break the drought and get UCA back in the game.

Bergersen added a conventional three-point play and the Bears closed the gap to 69-67 with 6:10 left to play. NSU, which had four players in double figures, ran back out to a nine-point lead at 76-67 but UCA responded again by scoring eight straight, including six consecutive points by junior Eddy Kayouloud that once again made it a one-point game with 16.4 to play.

NSU’s Carvell Teasett made a pair of free throws with 15.3 left but Cooper put in a layup to make it 78-77 with 9.1 on the clock. Teasett then made 1 of 2 before the Bears were called for the offensive foul to end the comeback.

The Bears were playing without starter Khaleem Bennett, out with a concussion from Wednesday’s game at Southeastern Louisiana, along with senior point guard DeAndre Jones and graduate center Samson George. Cooper made up a lot of that difference offensively, hitting 3 of 6 from three-point range in a season-high 28 minutes of action. Bergersen had a career-high nine assists to go with his 16 points despite struggling with his perimeter shooting. Junior center SK Shittu finished with 8 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. 

Masai Olowokere

Kayouloud, in the starting lineup in place of Bennett, had 12 points, 5 rebound and 2 assists and shot 5 of 7 from the field. Sophomores Jaxson Baker and Masai Olowokere added 10 and 9 points, respectively, off the bench, combining to go 3 of 5 from three-point range. 

“It hurt that we didn’t have Khaleem,’ said Boone. “Masai came in and played pretty well. SK had a good game and Eddy played a pretty good game, also. If those guys keep doing that and we get Khaleem back, and we keep with the trend that we’re going on with the better energy level going into the game, the guys a little more excited about playing and looking to make plays for each other, we’re going to be fine.’

The Bears grabbed a 42-40 halftime lead behind 48.6-percent shooting and 10 points from Baker, who nailed two of UCA’s four three-pointers. NSU’s Trenton Massner kept the Demons in the game with 14 points. Both teams led by as much as six points in the half, with UCA leading for the final 8:45 after a three-point play by senior forward Jared Chatham. 

A Cooper three-pointer at the 7:05 mark made it a 33-27 UCA lead but NSU got back within one two more times before the break. Olowokere hit UCA’s final three with 45 seconds left for a 42-38 lead but NSU’s Kendal Coleman scored inside to set the halftime margin. The Demons were 5 of 10 from three-point range in the first half and shot 47.1 percent overall.

Massner led the Demons with 18 points while LaTerrence Reed and Jamaure Gregg had 16 apiece.

UCA will host the McNeese Cowboys at 2 p.m. Saturday. UCA opened SLC play with an 81-67 victory over the Cowboys on Jan. 2 in Lake Charles, La.