CONWAY -- The University of Central Arkansas cut a 21-point Sam Houston State lead to eight in the closing minutes, but it wasn't enough to overcome the offensive onslaught the Bearkats brought with them to the Farris Center in a 91-80 victory Saturday.
UCA's Rylan Bergersen scored 21 points and Jared Chatham added 17 in the second-half, but the Bears couldn't hold off the Bearkats.
"Our guys kept fighting," UCA Coach Anthony Boone said. "That was good to see. We just couldn't get over the hump."
Sam Houston State (9-5, 3-0 Southland Conference) poured it on UCA, hitting 13 three-pointers with four players scoring in double-digits to hand the Bears (3-8, 2-1) their first conference loss of the season.
Bergersen scored in double-figures for the 10th time this season, reaching his total on 6-of-14 shooting, and Chatham scored all but two of his 19 points in the second half in a double-double effort to go along with 11 rebounds. Sophomore Khaleem Bennett finished with 16 points for the Bears.
Those performances were overshadowed by what the Bearkats delivered, led by Demarkus Lampley's 23 points. Zach Nutall and Donte Powers each contributed 19, and with 16 points from freshman Bryce Monroe, Sam Houston State got 77 points from four players.
The Bearkats' offensive outpouring built a 12-point halftime lead that they added to in the second half, with the advantage growing as large as 21. It was a enough cushion for the Bearkats to withstand the late push led by Bergersen, Chatham and Bennett.
"Sam Houston State is very good at putting the [ball on the] floor and drawing help and then kicking it to someone else who is wide open," Boone said. "That's mostly what they do offensively and they're really good at it."
The Bears were without two starters in guard DeAndre Jones and forward Samson George.
It was confirmed before the game that Jones' suffered a torn ACL in Wednesday's win over New Orleans and will miss the remainder of the season. George was sidelined with a sprained ankle. Sophomore Jaxson Baker, who finished with 11 points and three rebounds, and junior SK Shittu replaced the duo in the starting lineup Saturday.
Nutall, who scored all 19 of his points in the first half, set the tone early and handed the Bearkats an early 7-4 lead with a pair of finishes at the basket and an assist on Lampley's three-pointer 1:02 after the opening tip.
The Bears' offense began much slower, and Bergersen and Bennett were the only UCA players to score more than five points in the first half. The Bears made up for the relative offensive struggles at the foul line, hitting 14 of 19 free throws after entering the bonus with 14:23 remaining in the half.
UCA led 14-10 before Sam Houston State rattled off 14 unanswered points, capped off by a three-point play by Monroe that gave the Bearkats a 24-14 advantage. The Bears responded with a 7-0 run of their own spurred by a three-pointer from Baker and a foul-line jumper by Masai Olowokere, but the Bearkats kept rolling and when Lampley's shot beat the buzzer at the half, the visitors led 51-39.
"Once they get to moving around, we just kind of lose which ones are which and we're running at the guys who aren't shooting and we're running at the guys who are," Boone said. "We have to keep working on that."
Without Jones, the team's point guard and second-leading scorer, Bergersen assumed ball-handling duties. The senior handled the assignment well, but despite leading UCA in scoring, his output was limited in the role.
"We've got to find someone who can take the pressure off of Rylan to bring the ball up the floor," he said.
Lampley picked up where he left off after the break, drilling a corner three-pointer on the first possession to spark the run that handed Sam Houston State its 21-point lead, the largest of the game.
UCA fought back, pounding the ball inside for 20 second-half points in the paint to cut into the gap. Bennett cut the Bearkats' lead to eight from the foul line with 3:26 remaining, but the Bears never got closer.
"We still have room to grow in that aspect," Boone said. "I still think the guys are pretty resilient because they didn't give up. They kept fighting."
SAM HOUSTON ST. 67,
Sam Houston State (5-4, 1-2 Southland Conference) handed the Sugar Bears (2-8, 0-2) its third straight loss with the seven-point victory.
UCA's Savanna Walker paced the Sugar Bears with 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, and Tori Lasker scored 13 while dishing five assists. The duo was outdone by Bearkats guard Faith Cook and her 23 points, and a 20-point, 10-rebound effort by Amber Leggett.
The Sugar Bears were without guard Jalisa Outlaw, who the program announced tore her ACL against McNeese State on Jan. 2 and will miss the rest of the season. The redshirt freshman was leading UCA with 13.2 points per game prior to her injury.
UCA hung tight with the Bearkats, trailing 28-26 at the half and 49-48 entering the fourth quarter as Hannah Langhi posted a season-high 10 points and led the Sugar Bears with seven rebounds.
Sam Houston State opened the final quarter on a 12-4 run to jump ahead 61-52 and UCA's late run that cut the gap to five points proved too little, too late.