Nicholls upsets top seed Central Ark.
By BRANDON C.
KATY, Texas — Top-seeded Central Arkansas had come back from a 16-point deficit against Nicholls State to defeat the Colonels 66-59 on Jan. 18 and the Sugar Bears found themselves in a similar hole on Tuesday evening.
Only this time, there would be no comeback as the emotionally charged Colonels hit a Southland Conference-tournament record 14 three-pointers against the regular season champions en route to a 79-59 upset in the first round of the Southland Conference Tournament.
The win marked Nicholls’ first in Southland tournament annals.
“Man, I’ve never seen a team that was so amped up to play as Nicholls State was,” said UCA coach Matt Daniels.
Nicholls became only the second eight seed to send a top seed to an early exit, joining Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, which shocked Texas State by a 20-point margin in 2008.
UCA (24-7) held a 9-8 lead before Nicholls (15-15) responded with a 14-3 run that gave it the lead for good against a Sugar Bears team that had few answers to what Colonels coach DoBee Plaisance and her squad threw at them.
The Sugar Bears were one of the nation’s top teams in defending three-pointers, yet allowed Nicholls to shoot 56 percent from beyond the arc en route to breaking Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s mark of 12 set in the 2007 tournament.
“There was a reason why we came in the way we did,” Plaisance said. “At shoot around, I was teary-eyed, literally, sitting there watching them in a normal shoot around. I couldn’t say anything. I was like ‘they’ve got it.’”
No one had more for Nicholls than forward LiAnn McCarthy, who scored a game-high 32 points, including seven three-pointers, which tied UTSA’s Jordan Stark (2009) for the single-game record in tournament play.
McCarthy’s marksmanship came at key moments throughout the contest, especially in the second half as UCA, which trailed 39-23 at intermission, closed to within 56-51 with 7:14 remaining behind the play of conference player of the year Megan Hebert. Hebert scored all 16 of her points after intermission as the Sugar Bears mounted a furious comeback.
After Jenny Nash converted a trey, McCarthy followed up with a basket that extended the lead to 63-51 before she and Nash teamed up for consecutive three-pointers that put the game away for the Colonels with 2:56 left.
While McCarthy had a record-setting effort on the offensive end, Plaisance said she was most proud of McCarthy’s effort on the defensive end, where she helped contain UCA to just 38 percent shooting from the field.
The Colonels also succeeded in minimizing mistakes, committing just five turnovers on the night and recorded assists on 24 of their 28 field goals.
As the regular season champions, UCA will play in the Women’s NIT but may have to do so without defensive stopper Desiree’ Rogers, who sustained a knee injury early in the first half.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished during the season,” said Daniels. “Nicholls was unbelievable tonight. We were unbelievable, but just in a different direction.”