Last Modified: Sunday, March 03, 2013 2:03 AM
It was the type of free-throw shooting that would make a blind man weep.
McNeese State’s performance at the line on Saturday afternoon was just a bit more woeful than that of Central Arkansas, allowing the Bears to escape from Burton Coliseum with a 68-67 victory despite their most generous efforts to gift-wrap a win for Cowboys seniors Dontae Cannon and Jeremie Mitchell.
On a day when Oklahoma tied an NCAA record by making all 34 of its free throws, McNeese and UCA could not have looked more different. The Cowboys were 4 of 14 (28.6 percent) from the charity stripe, which made UCA’s Shaq-like 14 of 25 (56 percent) look good in comparison.
“That’s the most glaring statistic of all in winning basketball games,” said McNeese coach Dave Simmons. “Usually 56 percent will get you beat. We’re not trying to miss free throws, but it’s a skill we’ve got to get better at.”
UCA (12-16, 6-11 Southland) missed four free throws in the final 10 seconds to give McNeese a pair of chances at the end, but the Cowboys weren’t able to capitalize.
Oliver Wells missed both of his foul shots with 9.3 seconds left before the rebound bounced out off another Bear. But Adrian Fields traveled catching the ensuing inbounds pass to give it right back.
The Cowboys (12-15, 6-10) immediately fouled Jarvis Garner, who also bricked both of his attempts. Desharick Guidry grabbed the rebound for McNeese, dribbling the length of the floor before releasing a shot near the top of the key.
Guidry’s face told the outcome before the ball was halfway to the hoop, and the short shot grazed the front of the rim as the horn sounded.
“I had confidence in shooting it,” Guidry said. “It just kind of felt a little short, and that’s how it fell.”
Guidry helped the Cowboys build a lead of as many as 17 in the first half, hitting 6-of-8 3-point attempts on his way to a game-high 24 points.
But McNeese could not maintain its advantage, with UCA rallying early in the second half as Kevin Hardy and Jeremie Mitchell each had to go to the bench with four fouls.
“I probably should have left one in,” Simmons said. “We’re not deep enough to have those two guys sitting down for an extended period of time. We lost momentum. When guys came in we didn’t maintain our lead and energy.”
Mitchell made up for it when he got back in, scoring all 10 of his points in the final 10 minutes.
“I wasn’t worried about the fouls,” Mitchell said of checking back in. “I play hard D so that comes with fouls. But I’m smart. I know not to get another foul. I was telling coach I can play through it. I’m still going to play hard and not give up easy baskets.”
He was one of three Cowboys to score 10 points, joining Craig McFerrin and Hardy. McFerrin also had 17 rebounds, but overall McNeese was outrebounded 49-39.
LaQuentin Miles and Garner had double-doubles for the Bears. Miles had 17 points and 10 rebounds before fouling out, and Garner finished with 13 points and 14 boards. Robert Crawford had a team-high 18 points.
The loss was particularly costly for McNeese, which could have earned the No. 4 seed and a first-round bye in the conference tournament by winning the remainder of its two regular-season games.
“It’s heartbreaking because you would have a great opportunity going to play Southeastern one game behind them,” Simmons said. “But we didn’t take advantage of it.”
The Bears have broken Cowboy hearts twice this season, beating them 103-98 in three overtimes on Jan. 24 in Conway, Ark.