Courtesy UCA Bears Athletics Department
THIBODAUX, La. _ Senior guard Fred Hunter scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half to lead the Nicholls State Colonels to an 83-79 victory over the University of Central Arkansas Bears in the Southland Conference opener for both teams at Stopher Gymnasium.
The UCA Bears (5-6, 0-1) closed a nine-point deficit to just two points at 81-79 with 2.7 seconds left. But the Colonels (2-9, 1-0) got a pair of free throws from T.J. Carpenter with 1.9 remaining to seal the victory and break a seven-game losing streak.
UCA Bears senior guard Robert Crawford topped the Bears with 21 points, hitting 4 of 7 shots from three-point range. Senior forward Jarvis Garner added 18 points, but was 0 for 7 from beyond the arc as UCA hit just 7 of 23 three-point attempts (30.4 percent). The Bears were also hurt by 22 turnovers.
Freshman Daouda Berete finished with 15 points and had a perfect shooting night, going 6 of 6 overall, 1 of 1 from three-point range and 2 of 2 from the line. He added 4 rebounds and 4 assists.
“I went in and wrote that on the board after the game, 22 turnovers, 21 points off those turnovers,” said UCA Bears head coach Corliss Williamson. “We felt like that was the game. We didn’t take care of the basketball. When we got into the paint, we made bad decisions. And as a result, we gave Nicholls a chance to capitalize on those turnovers.
“You can’t do that on the road in Southland Conference play. I don’t know if was first conference game jitters or what, but we just kind of got away from what we have been doing all season. When we did attack the basket, we didn’t finish the layups. We started trying to make extra passes and we turned the basketball over.”
The Bears led by as much as six points midway through the first half, but the Colonels found the range down the stretch and outscored UCA 26-12 over the final 10 minutes to take a 38-30 halftime lead.
The Colonels then came out of the locker room with an 8-3 run to push their lead to 49-38 early in the half. After trailing by as much as nine points at 77-68, the Bears fought back. Garner made a pair of free throws to make it 79-74 with 46.6 seconds left.
After missing four consecutive free throws, the Colonels got two from Shane Rillieux for an 81-74 lead with 21.1 to play. Crawford nailed a long three-pointer for UCA at 15.5 before Rillieux missed two more free throws. Crawford followed a missed shot with a rebound basket to make it 81-79 with 2.7 seconds left.
But Carpenter made the two free throws that counted with 1.9 to play to set the final.
UCA shot 50.9 percent overall from the field and was 14 of 18 (77.8 percent) from the line. However, the Bears had 22 turnovers and the Colonels scored 21 points off those miscues.
“We started slow and Nicholls came out and knocked down some shots,” said Williamson. “We didn’t locate their shooters in the zone. But we tried to change the pace of the game and got into our full-court man with pressure and we were able to make a run and take the lead.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to sustain that. We gave up some easy baskets and started turning the ball over.”
UCA continues its road swing at Southeastern Louisiana at 4 p.m. Saturday in Hammond, La.