A win is a win, and typically no win counts more than any other. Even still, for the Stephen F. Austin women's basketball team, a 59-46 win against Central Arkansas was sweet in every way. For starters, the Ladyjacks improve to 15-3 on the season (7-0 SLC), while keeping the top spot in the conference standings on lock. The victory also ends a four-game skid in the all-time series between the two teams, avenging three losses last season, and gives SFA head coach Mark Kellogg his first win over the Sugar Bears while at the helm of SFA.
A pivotal third quarter effort proved to be the difference maker in the contest, as SFA outscored the Sugar Bears 19-7 in the third frame and kept the clamps on on the defensive end to polish off Central Arkansas to extend a season-long winning streak to nine games.
"I'm really proud of our kids, I thought their effort was phenomenal," said Kellogg. "I thought we played really hard for 40 minutes, it wasn't always pretty and the first half was ugly at times, but we got going in the second half and made some perimeter shots. We turned them over a bit, so points off turnovers went in our favor. Proud of our kids, Taylor and Chanell kind of carried us offensively in that second half, and we needed them. We battled, that's a really quality team that's really good defensively, and I thought we held our own."
Taylor Jackson led all scorers with 17 points, while Chanell Hayes recorded her first career double-double with 15 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals. The duo also sank a combined six three-pointers in the win, including five of SFA's six treys in the second half.
A low scoring affair was not unexpected in a game that featured two teams ranked inside the top 32 in the nation in scoring defense, and the opening minutes of the contest yielded just a 4-2 score. After the Sugar Bears jumped ahead 6-2, the 'Jacks got a trey from Jackson and a pair of free throws from Stevi Parker to retake the lead for the first time since the opening score of the contest, an Imani Johnsonlayup. After a jumper by UCA's Kierra Jordan to beat the shot clock, put them back on top, the Ladyjacks got a pair of free throws by Riley Harvey and three-point play from Kia Fisker in quick succession to jump ahead 12-8. Even still, Jordan scored a layup to trim the lead to 12-10 at the end of the first.
A 6-0 run by the Sugar Bears to open the second quarter was not the ideal start to the frame that SFA had in mind, but a three-pointer from an unlikely source helped to stem the bleeding. Aaliyah Johnson, checking in in place of her sister Imani and seeing her first substantial game play in the conference season, pulled up for a three-pointer and drained the attempt to make the score 16-15. Two minutes later, the freshman got a chance to shine again, taking a pass inside from Hayes and scoring down low to tie the game up at 19-19 with 3:02 left to play. A layup by UCA's Taylor Baudoin with 31 ticks left in the half was the lone bucket in the final three minutes of the second quarter, and thus UCA hustled to the locker room with a 21-19 lead over the host Ladyjacks at the break.
The season-low 19 points at the halftime break came as a result of SFA shooting just 21.4 percent from the field in the opening half, including a 2-12 effort from beyond the arc.
"That defense is really good. Their attention to detail is great, their toughness is great, they challenge every shot at the rim," explained Kellogg. "It's a talented defensive group, Coach Rushing does a good job, but we wanted to show them that we could defend as well, so I was glad to hold them to 46 tonight, that's pretty impressive."
Opening the third quarter with a defensive stop, the 'Jacks tied the game up with a Parker jumper, then rebounded a Sugar Bears miss and took the lead on a Taylor Jackson trey to prompt a UCA timeout. Having struggled in the opening third quarter in several games leading up to the ACU contest last week, SFA got off to another great start out of the halftime break and kept the pressure on, outscoring the guests 19-7 during that span. After Jordan scored a layup with 5:43 remaining to get the score to 28-25, the Ladyjacks allowed just one UCA basket the remainder of the quarter, building a 10-3 advantage during that span. Doing her part to will her team to victory after playing just nine minutes of last week's win, Jackson scored a layup with eight seconds left to push SFA's lead to ten heading into the final quarter.
"It was big (to start the third quarter with that run), because I think in our last five conference games we hadn't won a third quarter yet, and now we've won two and been able to distance ourselves with that," Kellogg added. "In games like this, those small runs feel like 15 in games that are so low scoring."
After playing three tight, defense-driven quarters, it was as if the lid came off both teams' baskets in the fourth quarter, as each side shot 75 percent from the field and scored a combined 39 points in the quarter (21-18 SFA). It was in this stretch that Hayes came alive, scoring 11 points alone on the strength of three treys and 4-6 shooting. Her three-pointer to open the quarter was a tremendous boost for the home crowd and her team, and she a layup and two more trifectas before her scoring onslaught was finished in the quarter. Even as SFA's defense slackened in the waning minutes with a comfortable double-digit lead, allowing UCA to tack on easy buckets, the margin stayed substantial, and a final Jackson trifecta with 52 seconds left was a dagger that iced the contest for good.
Despite not being a loose team with the ball normally, UCA was made so on Wednesday, as SFA turned them over 21 times to the tune of 29 Ladyjack points. Besides that advantage, SFA built an edge in free throw shooting, going 11-11 at the stripe, and from deep, hitting eight trifectas to UCA's one. Central Arkansas's impact players Taylor Baudoin and Jordan were held to 11 and 15 points, respectively, but were 8-19 combined, and committed seven turnovers. UCA's third impact player, Kamry Orr, was completely shut down, managing just four points on 2-8 shooting and turning the ball over six times.
Having survived a very tough two-game stretch, the Ladyjacks have little time to rest before facing off with rival Sam Houston State on Saturday in Nacogdoches. Despite the Bearkats struggles this season (4-13, 1-7 SLC), the game's status as a rivalry contest makes no guarantees for the Ladyjacks.
Nothing can last forever, and unfortunately Wednesday night marked the end of the Stephen F. Austin men's basketball team's all-time dominance over Central Arkansas.
Although junior Shannon Bogues delivered a career-high 31 points on 11-of-22 shooting, the 'Jacks (16-4, 5-2 Southland) simply had no answer for a Central Arkansas (11-11, 5-4 Southland) team that shot 59.3-percent (16-of-27) from three point range and received a game-high 43 points from Jordan Howard in SFA's 100-92 setback inside the Farris Center.
It was SFA's first loss to Central Arkansas (now 1-16 against the 'Jacks) who dominated the majority of the game thanks to their squadron of long-range bombers. Howard drilled six three-pointers but, surprisingly, the most dangerous downtown assassin for the Bears was Thatch Unruh who dropped in 28 points on 8-of-11 shooting. Unruh connected on seven three-pointers - one more than the 'Jacks had as a team.
TJ Holyfield added 15 points and finished one rebound shy of a double-double for the 'Jacks. The junior out of Albuquerque, N.M., also became the newest member of SFA's 500-rebound club in the loss after snaring the first of his nine boards. Kevon Harris put in 14 and Ty Charles finished with 10 in a loss than snapped the 'Jacks' five-game winning streak.
The only two words required to paint a sufficient picture of the first half were as follows: Jordan Howard. The Bears' high-scoring senior wasted little time in getting his long-distance stroke going, helping the hosts control the majority of the opening frame in the process. By watching a pair of free throws go down in the game's opening 90 seconds, that gave Howard the green light to let it fly from downtown.
Outside of the final seven seconds of the half, the 'Jacks never owned a lead as Howard drilled all five of his first-half three-pointers in the first 8:15 of the half. That long-distance barrage helped the Bears grab a 22-10 lead over the 'Jacks and made the visitors play catch-up for the remainder of the frame.
Fortunately, the 'Jacks were up to the challenge and closed the first half by going on a 14-2 run through the final 4:03 of the period. SFA captured its lead by going to work down low, getting all but four points inside the painted area through the scoring surge.
Aaron Augustin capped the scoring spree by swirling in a corner three with seven seconds remaining in the half that gave the 'Jacks a 44-43 advantage at the halftime break. Mathieu Kamba, who dropped in 15 for the Bears, netted the first nine points of the second half for Central Arkansas and his three-pointer with 16:46 to go broke a 49-49 deadlock and gave the hosts the lead for good.
It was Unruh who was the Bears' biggest offensive spark in the second half as he scored 13-straight points for Central Arkansas to push its lead to 83-67 with 7:57 to go.
Bogues countered with everything he had for the 'Jacks, however, to make sure SFA always stood a chance. Twenty of his career-high 31 points came in the final 20 minutes of action and Holyfield teamed with him to lead SFA on a 17-5 run that cut the Bears' once-sizable lead down to four, 88-84, with 3:33 to go.
Central Arkansas, however, used a well-time run at the free throw line to close things out. In the game's final 2:18, the Bears went 8-of-12 from the stripe to give them the distance they need.
By himself, Howard put in 15 free throws on 20 attempts for the Bears who were 24-of-37 (64.9-percent) from the line. Although the 'Jacks outscored Central Arkansas by 32 (52-20) in the paint, the Bears' sizzling touch from three-point land was the difference.
Now that two of their longest Southland Conference road trips of the season are in the books, the 'Jacks return to William R. Johnson Coliseum for two straight games. That stretch begins Saturday when SFA matches up with longtime Piney Woods rival Sam Houston State for the 200th time in program history. Tip-off is slated for 6:00 p.m.