CONWAY, Ark. — Defense and perimeter shooting, both equally stellar, carried the University of Central Arkansas Bears to a 75-68 Southland Conference victory over the Lamar Cardinals on Saturday afternoon at the Farris Center.

The Bears (7-10, 2-2) made 12 three-pointers, shot 53.1 percent overall and held the Cardinals (8-9, 1-3) to just 37.9 percent shooting, including 30.8 percent in the second half . Lamar was just 8 of 26 in the second half while UCA shot 54.5 percent.

"We won it on the defensive end,' said UCA head coach Russ Pennell. "I was really happy with our defense. I wish we would have rebounded a little better but they only beat us by four on the glass, and a lot of those offensive rebounds came late. I was happy with the defensive performance.' 

Nine of UCA's three-pointers came in the first half when they never led by more than four points but managed a 37-34 at the break. Senior Thatch Unruh continued his hot shooting, going 3 for 6 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes. Graduate Jordan Grant provided a spark off the bench with a steal, an assists and a pair of three-pointers as six different players connected from three-point range in the half.

"Our guys will tell you in practice he's one of the hardest guys to guard,' said Pennell of Grant. "The reason being is he is very, very smart. He was coached very well at Harrison High School by David Stahler, who was a teammate of mine here at UCA. Jordan came in with those kind of fundamentals and he's kind of waited his turn. It's always good when a guy gets rewarded for hard work. And the thing I can tell you, I've never come to practice that he wasn't the first guy on the floor.

"He and Hayden Koval are out there shooting when I walk in the building. So for him to get in, and then have such a big, big impact... I thought he just kind of lit the spark that we needed. I thought he kind of got us going.'

The Bears opened the second half with a 9-3 run, keyed by a slam dunk by freshman Khaleem Bennett and a three-pointer by sophomore DeAndre Jones. UCA had a nine-point margin twice more before the Cardinals fought back and tied the game at 56-56 with 6:34 remaining. The Bears answered with a 12-3 surge, ending with a Jones three-pointer, good for a 69-60 lead at the 3:00 mark.

The Cardinals would get no closer than six points after that as UCA's Matthew Mondesir, Koval and Jones combined to go 6 of 6 at the free-throw line in the final minute.

Unruh led a balanced attack with 14 points, while Mondesir added 13, Koval 11 and Jones 10. UCA had a season-high 23 assists, with Jones leading the way with seven and Koval adding a career-high five. Seven different players scored at least six points, seven had at least one assist and nine had a rebound 

"The teams I had a Grand Canyon (University) that were really, really good, this was their box score,' said Pennell. "Your leading guy had 14, and then you had a bunch of 8s and 7s and 9s. First of all, your team in engaged all season long because they know they can be a part of that. And then you also make your opponent really struggle as to who to guard. So I'm liking the way this thing is shaping up.

"If we keep defending, we keep rebounding a little better and we can cut our turnovers down just a little bit, this team can be really good by the end of the year.'

Mondesir, a sophomore from Los Angeles, had four rebounds, four assists and no turnovers to go with his 13 points in 25 big minutes off the bench.

"He stuffed the stat sheet on that one,' said Pennell. "That's the kind of guy we think Matthew is, he can come up with those kind of numbers. And he also played incredible defense. He's just a big strong kid and when he's locked in to what we're doing, he's awful special. As a coach, you love a guy with that versatility. That's the thing that Matthew brings to our team. 

"Really proud of him. He's accepted a role that I think he's the best sixth man in the conference. He could start for a lot of people, including us. But his role is to do what he did tonight.'

Senior Nick Garth led the Cardinals with 18 points off the bench, including 15 in the second half. Christian Barrett added 16 and leading scorer Josh Nzeakor had 13 points and 8 rebounds but took only eight shots. Lamar turned 17 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points. The Bears shot 52.2 percent from three-point range against the league's top three-point defensive team. Lamar's opponents were hitting just 30.2 percent from the arc entering the game.

    UCA's defense held the No. 2 scoring team in the SLC, nearly 12 points below its scoring average of 79.9 points.