Craig McFerrin of McNeese lays the ball up in the first half as Phabian Glasco defends. (Kirk Meche / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Friday, January 31, 2014 1:55 PMCentral Arkansas’ intrasport voodoo hex over McNeese State lay dormant this football season, but it returned with a vengeance at the Lake Charles Civic Center on Thursday night.
LaQuentin Miles hit a free throw with 0.5 seconds remaining, completing a three-point play after he was fouled by Kevin Hardy while releasing the game’s final shot to give UCA the 76-75 win.
“You can’t give him that,” said McNeese coach Dave Simmons. “You hit him (before the shot) and put a 59 percent free-throw shooter at the line, and at worst it’s overtime.”
It was the third consecutive win by the Bears over the Cowboys, as well as UCA’s first road.
UCA (5-14, 2-6 Southland) drove the length of the court in the final 5.2 seconds, with 59 percent free-throw shooter Miles improbably capping a game when little in the previous 39:54 adhered to logic.
The Bears squandered a 17-point halftime lead in less than 9 minutes, while the Cowboys (6-14, 4-4) countered by letting a four-point lead vanish in the final 16 seconds.
“We fought so hard to come back, and to not finish the game really hurts,” Hardy said.
Last year witnessed similar insanity between the teams when the Cowboys blew a 17-point lead at UCA before losing in triple overtime.
“You can never prepare for (what will happen) when we play Central Arkansas. It’s always something different,” Hardy said. “It’s fun playing them, but it’s a different way the curse happens every time we play.”
An unlikely hero led the Bears.
Junior Aubrey Bell — previous career-high of 12 points — came off the bench to nail 7 of 9 3-pointers for a game-high 23 points.
“They had a guy who was sick and didn’t play, and obviously he made the most of his opportunity and stepped up tonight,” Simmons said.
Bell’s final 3 of the night cut McNeese’s lead to 74-73 with 9.8 seconds remaining, countering a Desharick Guidry putback with 16 seconds left that seemed to tip the game into the Cowboys’ favor.
“I felt like it was over with,” Guidry said. “But 15 seconds is a lot of time. When he hit that and-one shot, it was like, ‘Dang.’”
UCA fouled Ledrick Eackles with 5.2 seconds to go, but he missed his first free throw before making the second.
Miles drove the floor a la UCLA’s Tyus Edney against Missouri in the 1995 NCAA tournament, and was hit by Hardy as he shot the ball.
“We got beat up the court, and I didn’t recover well,” Hardy said. “When he was going up I wanted to get my hands on the ball, but I had my hand in there too long. But I recovered horribly, and he got it up.”
Officials reviewed the monitor to make sure the shot was released before the buzzer, finally confirming after several minutes it was good.
It’s the second straight agonizing loss for McNeese, which fell to Nicholls State in overtime on Jan. 21 in its last outing.
The Cowboys trailed 42-25 at halftime after shooting 27 percent from the field in the first half, including 1 of 15 from 3-point range.
McNeese quickly evaporated the deficit by getting the ball inside and taking advantage of second-chance points. The Cowboys had 49 rebounds (27 offensive) to UCA’s total of 28, and dominated second-chance scoring by a 32-6 margin.
Guidry paced McNeese with a double-double of 20 points and 13 boards. Eackles led McNeese with 21 points.