NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release) - An off night in terms of offense did not prevent Stephen F. Austin men's basketball junior Ty Charles from coming up with a multitude of important plays down the stretch for the 'Jacks.
With his squad clinging to a three-point lead, Charles hauled down the last of his four rebounds and swished a pair of clutch free throws with two seconds left after visiting Central Arkansas misfired on its second wide-open three-point field goal attempt in the last 14 seconds to help the 'Jacks hold on for a 78-76 win over the Bears on Wednesday night in William R. Johnson Coliseum.
Those free throw makes by Charles handed the home team a five-point edge, and wound up being arguably the two most important points of the game as UCA's Jordan Howard connected on a wide-open, half-court three-pointer right before the final horn sounded.
Howard's half-court heave at the buzzer capped a 25-point night for the high-scoring sophomore, and the 'Jacks did just enough to negate the Bears' 55.8-percent (24-for-43) shooting clip by the time all was said and done.
"The way Central Arkansas plays makes a lot of teams look very poor on defense," said SFA head coach Kyle Keller. "They play, basically, five guards, spread you out and defensively we were on our heels for the majority of the night. The whole key for us was free throw attempts. We had four in the first half and 16 in the second half. That, and rebounding, helped us come out on top tonight."
Sophomore TJ Holyfield posted his fourth double-double of the season, netting a team-high 19 points as well as a game-best 12 rebounds while junior Isaiah Traylor established a new career-high with 18 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
Leon Gilmore III finished with 13 points and nine more of the 'Jacks' 43 rebounds. As a team, SFA owned a 43-23 edge on the glass and finished with just as many offensive rebounds as the Bears did total rebounds.
Offense - three-point shooting, to be specific - trumped the defensive efforts of both teams through the opening 20 minutes of action. After attempting 55 shots last Saturday night in San Antonio, the 'Jacks neared that total after one half, connecting on 17 of their 39 tries from the field in the frame.
Howard's second three-point connection of the night helped the Bears lay claim to an early 19-11 lead over the 'Jacks, before SFA called on Traylor to serve as its counterpunch on offense.
During a 19-9 run through the next 7:54 that allowed the home team to grab the lead for good, Traylor put in 10 of the 'Jacks' points. Gilmore III's layup broke a 28-28 tie and ensured an SFA lead for the remainder of the night.
By the time the first frame was a matter of record, Traylor's torrid shooting pace had already resulted in career-highs in both points (16) and three-pointers made (four). The 'Jacks needed every one of those points, however, as the Bears put in 60.9-percent (14-for-23) of their field goal attempts.
The 'Jacks wasted no time in establishing their first double-digit lead of the frame once the second half commenced. Holyfield and Gilmore III combined to put in 10 of SFA's first 12 points in the frame, upping the home team's edge to 52-41 in the process.
Dallas Cameron's season-high sixth assist of the night led to a layup from Holyfield which pushed SFA's lead to 71-58 with 6:52 to go, but from that point on the 'Jacks put in just one more field goal the rest of the way.
Eight of the next 11 points scored by the Bears were put in at the foul line, the last two of which came off the mitts of Darraja Parnell and cut SFA's once-comfortable lead to 72-69 with 2:36 left in the tilt.
Charles pulled up and got a hometown roll a mid-range jumper - the last of his three made field goals on 10 attempts - on SFA's next possession to give the 'Jacks a 74-69 lead.
Gilmore III went 2-for-4 at the free throw line in the last 1:35 to keep the door slightly ajar for the Bears before Charles' late-game free throws slammed it for good.
SFA connected on 42.4-percent (28-of-66) of its shots, but only 26.7-percent of its three-pointers despite attempting a season-high 30 tries from that distance. Mathieu Kamba put in 16 and Parnell added 13 more for the Bears.