Shorthanded Bears split series with Cowboys

The University of Central Arkansas Bears limited McNeese’s top two scoring threats on Saturday, Feb. 6, but the rest of the Cowboys proved to be the difference in an 80-70 McNeese victory in Southland Conference action at the Farris Center.

UCA held McNeese’s Dru Kuxhausen and KeyShawn Feazell to a combined 12 points and 4-of-12 shooting but the opportunistic Cowboys got 36 points off the bench and connected on 14 three-pointers. McNeese averages 8.5 threes per game. UCA (3-14, 2-7) played without two starters — and five players overall — due to injury, illness and contact tracing.

Eddy Kayouloud

“We did a great job on Feazell and Kuxhausen, and their other guys stepped up,” said UCA Head Coach Anthony Boone. “They saw that they needed them and they stepped up and played really big. A lot of guys shot the ball well for them. And they shot a lot better than they have been for the season, and that was a little bit surprising. 

“Some of that was because we didn’t guard them well one-on-one, as they drove and we helped and they kicked out for open looks. I tell my guys all the time, I wasn’t a three-point shooter, but I shot 67 percent from three for my career in college. Because anybody at the college level can shoot a wide-open three.”

The Cowboys (8-10, 2-7), who nailed one of those three-pointers at the first-half buzzer for a 36-33 halftime lead, shot 53.3 percent in the second half and added seven more three-pointers to pull away from the Bears. UCA, missing starters Jaxson Baker and Khaleem Bennett and freshman center Churchill Bounds, made 11 of 21 (52.4 percent) from three-point range, but were outscored 44-37 in the second half.

The Bears made five of their first seven three-point attempts and ran out to as much as a nine-point lead in the opening 20 minutes but the Cowboys caught up and went up three at the half and never trailed again. Junior Eddy Kayouloud and senior Rylan Bergersen kept the Bears within striking distance for the first 10 minutes of the second half. Consecutive layups by Kayouloud made it a 54-51 UCA deficit with 10:40 to play.

But the Cowboys, who lost 81-67 to the Bears in the SLC opener on Jan. 2 in Lake Charles, pushed their lead out to as much as 14 points over the final 10 minutes. 
Kayouloud, a junior from Paris, France, tied his season high with 20 points, and added 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Bergersen made 3 of 5 from three-point range and added 19 points. UCA was just 9 of 19 (47.4 percent) at the free-throw line.

Rylan Bergersen

“Eddy did get locked in (today),” Boone said. “This past week, we worked on shooting, and it helped. I told the guys, we shot the ball better in this game than we have in quite some time, from three-point at least. From the free-throw line it was pretty bad. But Eddy certainly got locked in this week, And hopefully we can keep him that way, and get a couple of other guys on the same track. And once we get a couple of guys back from illness, hopefully we’ll be able to put some things together.”

Junior center SK Shittu was solid again inside and out with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 blocked shots, and hitting 3 of 4 from beyond the arc. He is now 7 of 11 from three-point range on the season.

“From the moment SK got here he was a pretty good shooter,” Boone said. “Early on it was mid-range and he’s expanded it. And he’s hit some this season. He takes pretty good shots. Again, they’re wide open and he is a pretty good shooter.”

UCA played nine players, with six playing at least 20 minutes.

“It hurt us a pretty good amount,” Boone said. “I think we had some tired legs at the end, because some guys had to play some long stretches. We tried to give them breaks as much as we could, but with the limited bench, we just couldn’t do it.

“This year has certainly been crazy, and it’s been crazy for everyone around the country. I talked to one of my old coaches this past weekend, Coach (Rob) Evans. He said he’s been in this business for 50 years and he was not prepared for this season, for everything that has gone on this year. It’s crazy and we just have to be able to roll with it.” 

The craziness continues this week as the Bears will be off for the second straight Wednesday after New Orleans was forced to postpone their game with the Bears due to covid-19 issues. That game will now be played Monday, Feb. 22, at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. UCA’s next action will be at 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 13, at Sam Houston.