HUNTSVILLE, Texas — After falling behind by 15 in the second quarter at Sam Houston State on Wednesday, Central Arkansas rallied in the second half to take the lead in the fourth quarter – but the comeback would prove to be for naught as the Bearkats made enough plays down the stretch to escape as the Sugar Bears fell 66-62 at Johnson Coliseum.
"I'm proud that we fought back – but we only start fighting back when things go our way," Central Arkansas coach Sandra Rushing said. "We should have never been in that situation. When you miss as many free throws as we did, and shoot ourselves in the foot with turnovers, we looked like a high school team out there. And then we saw some good spurts. I'm frustrated – I am absolutely frustrated."
Trailing 33-20 to start the second half, the Sugar Bears (5-8, 0-3 Southland) doubled up the Bearkats (6-6, 1-1) in the third quarter – outscoring SHSU 24-12 in the period – to go to the fourth trailing by just one at 45-44.
The Sugar Bears grabbed the lead just 1:12 into the period on an offensive rebound and putback by senior guard Kamry Orr, and the two teams would trade leads over the next couple of minutes.
The Sugar Bears reclaimed the lead with 5:25 to play at 53-51 on an offensive rebound and score from junior center Alexyse Thomas, and extended the lead to as much as four on a 3-pointer from senior guard Antonija Bozic with 4:34 left.
The Sugar Bears would hold the lead until Jaylonn Walker put the Bearkats back ahead with 1:24 to go – a lead they would not relinquish.
After a Sugar Bear turnover, Walker made one of two free throws to push the Bearkat lead to two at 58-56 with 44 seconds left.
The Sugar Bears corralled the rebound, but a quick turnover underneath their own basket led to another foul and two more free throws for Walker, who made both to push the lead to four.
Orr drove in for a layup to cut the deficit in half with 36 seconds left, and the Sugar Bears again sent Walker to the line, where she misfired on the first before connecting on the second.
Another Sugar Bear turnover and another Walker 1 for 2 trip to the line left SHSU up 62-58 with 21 seconds before the Sugar Bears got it back to two seconds later when sophomore forward Mekaylan Hicks scored and drew a foul with 14 seconds to play – but missed on the free throw, leaving it 62-60 Bearkats.
Hicks would score once again with eight seconds left, but the Bearkats converted their final four free throw attempts to keep the game just out of reach for the Sugar Bears.
"We're going to get this thing together," Rushing said. "But we're going to do it one way – and it's going to be my way. We're not listening, we're having to beg people to play defense. It's my responsibility, I'm the head coach – I'm willing to take it. But we're going to get back on track. I'm not throwing in the towel. We're going to continue to work, and those who want to work will be on the floor, and those who don't are going to be over here on the bench no matter what the outcome is."
For the game, the Sugar Bears shot 44.6 percent from the field – including 51.5 percent in the second half – and were 4 of 9 (44.4 percent) from 3-point range, but struggled from the free-throw line as they shot just 8 for 20 (40 percent).
Conversely, the free-throw line was kind to the Bearkats as they made 30 of their 43 attempts (69.8 percent) – 15 more than the Sugar Bears had allowed in any game this season.
The Sugar Bears committed 19 turnovers, including six in the fourth quarter, and the Bearkats finished with a 21-16 edge in points off turnovers.
The Bearkats also had 16 second-chance points to the Sugar Bears' seven, grabbing 12 offensive rebounds to Central Arkansas' eight.
Hicks, in her first game back since suffering a concussion at Kansas State on Dec. 20, had a career-high 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a steal in 31 minutes for the Sugar Bears.
Junior guard Taylor Sells had 15 points on 6 for 6 shooting, five rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes.
Orr added 11 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists before fouling out in 29 minutes.
Antonija Bozic knocked down three 3-pointers to finish with nine points.
Walker led the Bearkats with 18 points (including 13 of 20 from the free-throw line), seven rebounds, four assists and four steals, while Amber Leggett added 16 points and La'Sha Haynes added a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The loss was the first in 11 games against the Bearkats for Sugar Bears, who fall to 0-3 in Southland play for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
Central Arkansas finishes its three-game road swing at Lamar on Saturday before returning to the Farris Center next week when they host Incarnate Word on Wednesday and Nicholls next Saturday.