KATY, Texas — A late comeback fell short and ended the season for the University of Central Arkansas Bears on Wednesday night at the Southland Conference Tournament.
Sam Houston State got six second-half three-pointers from guard Darius Gatson, and nine as a team, to down the Bears 69-63 in first-round action at the Leonard E. Merrell Center. UCA (13-17) was making its first appearance in the tournament while SHSU (16-16) was making it’s 11th straight.
“Sam Houston is just very tough defensively,” said UCA head coach Corliss Williamson. “That’s one thing we talked about in our scouting report, dealing with their physical defense and trying not to get pushed out of our offense. I thought in the first half we did a decent job of defending them and scoring.
“But of course, we got lucky that Gatson was in foul trouble. But he came back in the second half with a vengeance. That was one of the things we talked about was making sure we take away the three-point shot. They did an excellent job of attacking the basket and then kicking it out and finding the shooters.”
Gatson, a 5-foot-11 senior, scored all 19 of his points in the second half. He entered the game averaging just 8.5 points per game, with his last double-figure scoring game coming against UCA back on Feb. 16.
UCA, which led 29-28 at halftime, had a 34-32 lead on senior Jarvis Garner’s three-pointer at the 18:30 mark of the second half. But the Bearkats made four three-pointers over an eight-minute span and began to pull away. Back-to-back threes from Darius Gatson capped a 15-5 run for SHSU and gave the Bearkats a 54-41 lead with 8:30 to play in the game.
UCA junior guard LaQuentin Miles scored seven consecutive points to pull the Bears within 54-49 with 5:43 left to play. Down by as much as 12 points with 3:35 to play, UCA outscored SHSU 13-6 to close the gap to just 68-63 in the final seconds.
Miles finished with 19 points, hitting 7 of 11 from the field and 5 of 7 at the free-throw line. UCA’s other two big offensive weapons, seniors Jarvis Garner and Robert Crawford, shot a combined 4 of 23 (2 of 10 from three-point range) and totaled 16 points. UCA shot 37.9 percent from the field in both halves. while SHSU improved fromm 38.5 percent in the first half to 57.7 percent after halftime.
“We were honored to be here, the first time for our school, this program, to make it to the tournament,” said Williamson. “Our guys were elated about having this opportunity. Although it’s been a short stay in Katy, we enjoyed it.
“It was a tough loss for us. Our seniors are sad, everyone is sad about it. But in the long run, I’m happy with the way our season went. I think we got better as basketball players and as a team.”
“It shows the progression of our program. We talk about changing the culture, changing the style of play and what we are trying to accomplish. We can see that progression from Year 1 to now. Of course, you’d like to come in and do it a lot sooner and win more games, but it takes time to build a program.
“I think they guys we have now in our program understand what it takes to play in the Southland.”
The Bearkats advance to face third-seeded Oral Roberts at 7:30 Thursday in the quarterfinals.