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Author Topic: UCA FINALLY BREAKS THROUGH WITH 100-92 WIN OVER SFA  (Read 82 times)

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Seminole Indian

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« on: January 25, 2018, 07:49:13 am »

CONWAY, Ark. _ A pair of career highs helped the University of Central Arkansas Bears finally break through against an old nemesis on Wednesday night, to the tune of a 100-92 victory over Stephen F. Austin in Southland Conference action in front of a raucous, season-high crowd of 2,225 at the Farris Center.

The Bears (11-11, 5-4) had never beaten the Lumberjacks (16-4, 5-2) in 16 previous tries since joining the SLC in 2006-07, but turned to senior guard Jordan Howard and junior guard Thatch Unruh to finally get it done. Howard, who had broken the UCA career scoring record last Saturday, padded that total by tossing in a career-high 43 points on Wednesday, scoring 28 points, a school-record for a half, in the opening 20 minutes. It was Unruh's turn to take over in the second half, as he scored 23 of his career-high 28 points after halftime as the Bears knocked off the second top three SLC team in the past week.

Howard and Unruh combined to drill 13 of 17 from three-point range as the Bears had their second-best three-point outing of the season, hitting 16 of 27 (59.3 percent), shooting a better percentage from beyond the arc than overall (52.6 percent). Both players had more points than they had minutes played, with Howard playing 39 of the 40 minutes and Unruh 24 in his first game off the bench this season after spraining an ankle in a Wednesday practice and sitting out Thursday's workout.

The Bears' 16 three-pointers equaled their combined total from the past three games.

"When you're playing against a team that has had such a run like Stephen F. Austin, and they're still the perennial favorite to win this league,' UCA head coach Russ Pennell said. "I still think they probably have the best team. But it doesn't mean they can't be beaten, and it doesn't mean that we're going to hand them the championship. But I felt like this was a measuring mark.

"And I told the guys, I thought this was one of those times, if you're trying to build a program, at some point you've got to beat the big bully on the block. And that's what I felt like we did tonight. We responded against a really, really good team.'

The Bears started fast out of the gate, leading by as much as 12 points in the first half, with Howard going 5 for 5 from three-point range and 7 of 8 at the free-throw line. But the Lumberjacks outscored the Bears 11-0 to end the first half and grab their first lead of the game at 44-43 at halftime.

"The thing I'm the proudest of, I really got on them at halftime. I was upset,' Pennell said, "because I thought we played about 17 1/2 good minutes  and then we just let down and let them back in the ballgame. And the reason I wanted to jump on them is because I knew my guys felt bad, I knew they felt like they had let everyone down. And I wasn't going to let them wallow in that.
"It was funny, at one of our timeouts, Thatch said, 'we have to keep it on them, they're not going to quit.' And that kind of rang the bell for me, they're the champions, they're not going to quit. You're going to have to beat them. And I thought they responded really, really well.'

No one responded better than Unruh, whose previous scoring high was 20 points in three separate games, including  UCLA and Texas A&M-Corpus Chrsti earlier this season. Unruh went 6 of 7 from beyond the arc in the second half and along with threes from Howard, senior Mathieu Kamba and freshman DeAndre Jones, helped the Bears hold off the Lumberjacks, who had won five straight games since losing their SLC opener at Southeastern Louisiana.

"He got it going, didn't he?' Pennell said. "When a shooter gets going and they feel it like Thatch did, it's wonderful. And of course, Jordan had it going in the first half. We kind of broke out of our shooting slump I guess.'

"(That was) really fun,' said Unruh. "They are a really competitive bunch, so we knew it was going to be a toughness game. We were going to have to come out and fight, and that's what we did. Those are the best games to play in. We fought and that's why we won. We were tough down the stretch and held onto the game.'

The return to the lineup of senior Ethan Lee and sophomore Darraja Parnell was big for the Bears, who have now beaten every team in the SLC at least once. Lee had missed five straight games with a dislocated thumb and Parnell missed the ACU loss on Saturday with the flu.

"I really thought a key tonight was having Ethan Lee and Darraja Parnell back,' said Pennell. "It just gave me more flexibility, it allowed me to sub and rest guys. And especially when Mathieu got in foul trouble in the first half. Ethan did a really, really nice job. We haven't had him for a few games and we need to remember, he's been a two-year starter for us. I know their stats don't show it, but they helped me coach a better game.'

Howard, the league's best free-throw shooter who went 15 of 20 from the line, came up a point short of tying UCA's single-game scoring record  set by Derrell Washington in 1994. He went 11 of 19 overall and added a team-high 7 rebounds. Kamba finished with 15 points, 4 rebounds and 5 steals, tying his career high, while battling foul trouble for much of the night. SFA outscored UCA 52-20 in points in the paint but the Bears made up the difference from the perimeter with 10 more three-pointers.

"This is another stepping stone for us, a signature win that can really build momentum and build our confidence up,' said Howard, who also owns the UCA and SLC career three-point records with 348. "We had beaten every team in the league except Stephen F. Austin, so to come here on our home court and beat them was really big for us. We had so many guys step up, and that's why we're so good, we have so many weapons on our team.

"We knew they were going to go on runs like they did, but how we withstood them and how we fought back and how guys stepped up was huge for us.'

UCA returns to the road on Saturday, taking on the Northwestern State Demons, who are winless in SLC play, at 3 p.m. at Prather Coliseum as part of a doubleheader with the Sugar Bears.

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