Bears take down defending ASUN champions

CONWAY — The University of Central Arkansas Bears needed a win in the worst way and they got a big one last Saturday, knocking off the defending Atlantic Sun Conference champion Kennesaw State 92-87 at the Farris Center.

Elias Cato

The Bears made 9 of 10 at the free-throw line in the final 21 seconds to hold off the Owls and improve to 4-3 in ASUN play. The Bears (8-15) had lost consecutive games on the road after going 3-1 in their first four league contests. It was UCA’s first victory over KSU in four tries. The Owls (13-8, 4-3) dropped their second straight game, and third in their last four.

“We needed to win a game to get off the slide we were on, and to do it against a really good team like Kennesaw State was big,” said UCA head coach Anthony Boone. “The guys played well and figured out how to get it done down the stretch.

“They are a really good team, very, very solid. They have arguably the best point guard in the league and maybe the best big guy in the league, and then guys that can knock down shots from outside whenever there is help on those other two. But we got our shots to fall in the second half and played some solid defense and then made our free throws.”

The Bears led for just 6:11 of the game, with most of that in the final six minutes. The Bears overcame a cold-shooting first half in which they were just 2 of 15 (13.3 percent) from three-point range by heating up in the second half. UCA shot 57.1 percent overall in the final 20 minutes and went 5 of 12 from the arc.

Freshman Tucker Anderson nailed two three-pointers early in the second half that got the Bears back on track. Still, they trailed until the 7:50 mark when Elias Cato’s layup gave them a 65-64 lead. It was back and forth from there, with the biggest margin being a five-point lead for the Bears with 3:35 remaining after four consecutive free throws by senior Masai Olowokere.

The game was tied as late as the 55-second mark before Javion Guy-King gave the Bears the lead back for good with an inside basket. The Owls missed a three-pointer and Olowokere grabbed the rebound and KSU fouled Guy-King. He made both free throws for an 85-81 lead before the Owls turned the ball over. Graduate Danield Sofield was fouled and KSU head coach Antoine Pettway drew a technical foul, giving the Bears four free throws with 12.3 left.

Sofield made all four for an 89-81 lead but KSU’s Simeon Cottle made two three-pointers to give the Owls a slight chance. Guy-King made 1 of 2 at the line with 6.8 remaining and Sofield finished it off with a pair with 1.4 on the clock.

“We hit quite a few down the stretch,” said Boone, “and we got a little help from the technical. With 12 seconds to go it was a decent lead and they dribble down and take a couple of wild shots, and hit threes with both of them. Fortunately we had a nice little padding with  all the free throws we hit.” 

Anderson led the Bears with 19 points, while Sofield added 18 (6 of 6 at the line), Olowokere had 17 (6 of 6 at the line) and Guy-King 15 (5 of 6 at the line). Cato scored 12 points and was 5 of 7 from the field. For the game, UCA went 25 of 30 (83.3 percent) at the foul line. The Bears also got 24 points from its bench. UCA finished 7 fof 27 from the arc, with Anderson and Sofield making two each.

UCA has two more home games this week, taking on Florida Gulf Coast at 7:30 Thursday and Stetson at 3:30 Saturday.