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UCA storms back to down ASU

by Sam Lane | December 7, 2022 at 2:49 a.m.

CONWAY -- The University of Central Arkansas men made a 12-point, second-half comeback Tuesday night at the Farris Center to defeat Arkansas State University, 72-67.

ASU (5-4) led UCA (5-4) 35-27 at halftime behind a combined 20 points from Markise Davis and Caleb Fields.

With ASU shooting 50% from the field in the first half, UCA shot 10 of 30 (33%), including 3 of 17 from behind the arc, to try and keep pace.

"We were trying to hit home runs. We were trying to make up ground in a couple of possessions," UCA Coach Anthony Boone said of his team's first-half shot selection. "It's not gonna happen that way. We can't do that defensively. We can't do that offensively."

The first five minutes of the second half were more of the same with ASU outscoring UCA 11-8 out of halftime. But UCA followed that with a 9-1 run to make it 46-44 with 12 minutes remaining.

UCA, which averages the 18th most possessions in Division I, picked up the pace even higher in the second half, and it led to quick, run-out scores. UCA scored 14 of its 21 fast-break points in the second half.

"We did pick up our pace offensively," Boone said. "We got some pretty good transition baskets, which always help."

UCA took its first lead since the score was 5-4 on a Camren Hunter layup with 8:09 remaining in the game to make it 55-53. Hunter had 7 points at halftime, but made 5 of his 6 shots in the second half to finish with 20 points. He also had seven rebounds and a team-high six assists.

"Cam was ultra-focused and has wanted to lead this team in whatever way possible. He did that in the second half," Boone said. "It wasn't that he needed to take all the shots or even get all the assists, but he was commanding on the floor. ... He was an extension of our coaching staff on the floor."

UCA and ASU traded made shots for the next five minutes before Collin Hooper's jumper gave UCA a 63-60 lead.

Cooper extended that lead soon after with a pair of free throws, followed by free throws from Elias Cato and Eddy Kayouloud to make it 69-62.

ASU's Avery Felts made a three-point shot with six seconds left to make it 71-67, but UCA got an offensive rebound and closed the game with a free throw from Hunter.

UCA held onto the ball better in the second half. The Bears shot 56% from the field and 40% from behind the arc the final 20 minutes. They also limited their turnovers to two for the half.

"We did a better job of taking care of the ball," Boone said. "... Our guys understood the process of one possession at a time, taking one possession at a time, and that was how we were going to win over the rest of the half."

Boone relied on Cato as one of his two big men. The sophomore from Queensland, Australia finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds and had all 3 of UCA's blocked shots. His impact was best shown midway through the second half when he blocked a shot from ASU's Omar El-Sheikh, got the rebound and drove the length of the floor to lay the ball in.

"Elias is starting to come along. We feel he has a lot of ability," Boone said. "... We have a lot confidence in him. He played extremely hard and being his size, and having the skillset he has, hopefully he can have more games like that."

"I think that was definitely my best game," Cato said. "I've had a few good games, but that was the most complete game I've played at UCA."

As UCA was making its comeback, ASU Coach Mike Balado said he felt his team was hurting itself trying to stop it from happening.

"Our defense failed us in the second half," Badolo said. "Defensively is where we lost this game in the second half, and we're a fairly good defensive team."

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