CONWAY, Ark. – Zach Nutall scored a team high 18, with 14 of those points coming during a strong first half performance to help lead the Sam Houston State Bearkats to a 78-69 win over Central Arkansas on Wednesday at the Farris Center.
The Bearkats (7-8, 2-0 SLC) led by as many as 20 during their second Southland Conference game of the year, but were pushed in the game’s waning minutes as UCA (6-10, 1-2 SLC) cut as much as a 20-point SHSU deficit to as little as five.
The win leaves Sam Houston as the lone unblemished team in SLC play after just three league dates in the books.
Nutall was the leader of a balanced scoring attack with six Kats scoring in double digits. Fellow freshman Xavier Bryant came off the bench and added 12 points with four boards, three assists and three steals as.
As a whole the Kats shot 9-for-25 from the three-point line but went a strong 5-for-9 in the second half. Albert Almanza was one of four Bearkats with a pair of treys, finishing with a dozen points. Kai Mitchell finished with 11, while both Cameron and Josh Delaney had 10 points each.
UCA’s Thatch Unruh led all scorers with 27 points for the Bears, connecting on six triples and hitting 5-for-5 at the stripe.
The Kats used an impressive early run to hold an 11-4 lead to start the game. The lead was extended to double-digits at 22-12 before being cut down to just three with 4:42 remaining as UCA got to the free throw line after some strong drives.
However, the final 4:42 was dominated by the Bearkats as they went on a 13-1 run to close out the half and go into the break with plenty of momentum after forcing 13 first half turnovers.
Along with the turnovers Mitchell put an early defensive stamp on the game with two early blocks, influencing the way the opposition looked to finish in the paint. Sam Houston held UCA to just 6-for-25 shooting from the field and 1-for-11 from the three-point line in the first half.
Offensively, Nutall provided a spark off the bench for the Bearkats as he came in and poured a team-high 14 points on an efficient 5-for-9 and added six boards in the opening 20 minutes of play.
he was the beneficiary of some strong drive-and-kick opportunities created by Sam Houston’s guards, including Bryant who also came off the bench with strong energy and assisted Nutall on a corner three that extended the Kats’ lead to 34-23 late in the first half before SHSU took a 38-23 lead to the break.
Josh Delaney quickly upped that lead to 41-23 on the first possession of the second half for the Kats, but the Bears were able to slow the game down and eventually got the lead into single digits after an 8-0 spurt that included six points from Unruh to make it a 46-38 game just over five minutes into the period.
That’s when the Kats got a big push from its pair of freshman as Nutall and Bryant combine to score each of 11 points, eventually getting the lead back to 57-40 after a 4-point play from Bryant with 12:04 to go.
The Bearkat lead would eventually swell to 70-50 after a quick five points from Almanza and an and-one from Mitchell peaked the advantage.
But Sam Houston had to fight in the final minutes of the game as they did not have a field goal in the final 4:32 of the game. The lead would get as low as five in the final minute before foul shots from Marcus Harris and Josh Delaney helped the Kats hold on.
The Kats will look to move to 3-0 in league play on Saturday as they return home to face off against Incarnate Word at the Johnson Coliseum. Tipoff is set for 5:30 p.m.