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Bears make it 2-0 in Southland play

The Bears held the Privateers to just 38.2 percent shooting from the field, while UCA shot a season-high 57.4 percent from the floor.

CONWAY, Ark — The University of Central Arkansas Bears turned to their defense once again in earning a hard-fought 83-79 victory over the New Orleans Privateers on Wednesday night in Southland Conference action at the Farris Center.

The Bears improved to 2-0 in league play by holding the Privateers to just 38.2 percent shooting from the field, after limiting McNeese to 32.1 percent last Saturday. Meanwhile, the Bears shot a season-high 57.4 percent from the field, despite losing All-SLC point guard DeAndre Jones in the opening 30 seconds of the game to injury. Senior Rylan Bergersen and sophomore Khaleem Bennett took up much of that slack, tying their career highs with 25 and 21 points, respectively.

Bergersen also filled in admirably with a career-high nine assists in Jones’ absence.

“That was a great basketball game,’ said UCA head coach Anthony Boone. “Both teams were playing really hard. New Orleans really came in and wanted to steal a win on the road. And for awhile, I didn’t know how we were going to be able to respond to that. But our guys are pretty tough, I think, but we just haven’t gotten hit like that in a couple of games.

“But the guys were resilient. They have a strong resolve and they stayed together, that was the biggest thing. This group of guys, they pull together so much. They pull for each other, they cheer for each other. They are encouraging, they are enthusiastic. That attitude and that atmosphere those guys create just breeds a chance for success.’

The Bears used red-hot shooting to lead for the first 17:30 minutes of the first half before a late 12-4 by the Privateers gave the visitors a 41-38 halftime lead. UCA led by as much as six points early and was ahead 34-29 with four minutes left. But UNO got a three-pointer from Lamont Berzat and four consecutive free throws from Derek St. Hilaire and Jahmel Myers to take its first lead of the game at 36-34 with 2:30 remaining.

SK Shittu dunked for the Bears and Jared Chatham hit a driving layup for the Bears’ only points in the final 4:10. Another three-pointer, this time from St. Hilaire and UNO’s sixth of the game, set the halftime margin at three points.

Bennett had 11 first-half points and Bergersen had nine.

The Privateers (1-9, 0-2) would not go away in the second half, grabbing as much as a nine-point lead with 14:00 minutes left. But the Bears responded, led by Bergersen and Bennett, who went 7 of 8 from the field. UCA cut the deficit to 66-65 on a Jaxson Baker driving layup with 8:35 to play. UCA put together an 18-7 run over a seven-minute period, with Bergersen and Bennett combining for an 8-0 run. Senior Jared Chatham dunked for an 81-76 lead, forcing a UNO time out with 1:25 to play.

Junior Eddy Kayouloud made a jumper with 14 seconds left to set the final.

UCA made 31 of 54 from the field and 17 of 22 (77.3 percent) from the free-throw line.

“We attacked the basket and got a lot of good finishes and a lot of midrange shots,’ said Boone. “And getting to the free-throw line was great, that was a big key in us winning. But the defense was the biggest key. New Orleans did a great job on the glass, and that’s always their focus. They seem to do that really well against us every time we play them.

“But our guys’ intensity on the defensive end, that was why we won.’

Jones, averaging 11.7 points and 4.1 assists per game, topped the 1,000-point mark last Saturday against McNeese and is 11 assists short of 500 for his career. But the Bears still managed to win without their floor leader.

“It’s a let down, when we first see it it’s definitely a let down,’ said Bergersen, a high school teammate of Jones who tied his career high of 25 points set two other times. “But we’re still in the game, we can’t worry about that. As players, when we’re on the court, we’re focused on the game. We can worry about his injury after the game, and check in on him after the game.

“I don’t know if we could have (been able to recover) from that in past years. But it’s a mindset. It’s we’re together. It’s we’re good, we’re good. That’s what we were telling each other. Just do what we do.’

Kayouloud added 11 points off the bench as UCA outscored UNO 30-18 in bench points and 44-30 in the paint. Damion Rosser and Lamont Berzat topped the Privateers with 20 points each, with Rosser adding 10 rebounds.

UCA continues its home stand with a 4 p.m. tip against Sam Houston State on Saturday.