|Updated: 3/13 9:24 pm
||Published: 3/13 9:22 pm
Megan Herbert had 22 points and 11 rebounds to move into 10th in Division I history in rebounds and became the all-time leading Division-I scorer in the state of Arkansas, but the Sugar Bears were unable to overcome 22 turnovers as they fell 64-59 to Stephen F. Austin in the opening round of the Southland Conference tournament in the Merrell Center on Wednesday.
The Sugar Bears (15-15) never led in the game, but despite their miscues found themselves down just one with under 20 seconds to go thanks largely in part to 17 second-half points from Herbert and a 12-point, three-assist day from freshman guard Jameka Watkins.
But with 18 seconds remaining and the shot clock off, needing one final basket to complete the comeback and extend the careers of the five Sugar Bear seniors, Tracey Parsons was whistled for a walk – turning the ball back over to the Ladyjacks.
SFA (14-16) drew a foul four seconds later, and Kali Jerrell went to the free throw line and made both to extend the Ladyjack lead to three at 62-59 with 14 seconds remaining. Herbert, who was 3-for-5 from 3-point range to that point, was forced to take a hurried, well-defended shot beyond the arc in an attempt to draw even with eight seconds left, but the shot was off the mark. SFA's Tierany Henderson grabbed the rebound, and Porsha Roberts went to the free throw line with two seconds left – making both and ending the careers of Herbert, Desiree' Rogers, Britney Gowans, Chantel Moss and Parsons.
"I am very proud of my team and very proud of [Herbert]," said Central Arkansas head coach Sandra Rushing. "We just made some mistakes down the stretch and turned the ball over quite a few times. SFA had 24 points off of turnovers and 26 points in the paint, and that is very hard to overcome. Stephen F. Austin is a tremendous team and I have just been waiting for them to break out. They are very physical and very well coaches. We got beat by a very good basketball team."
Herbert ended her career with her 84th double-double, and 18th of this season. After getting five points and six rebounds in the first half, she responded with 17 in the final 20 minutes on 5-of-9 shooting. With the Sugar Bears facing their largest deficit of the day at 10 points, she scored 9 of the team's next 13 points as they cut the SFA lead in half and stayed within striking distance the rest of the way.
"When you are playing Megan Herbert, the three-time conference player of the year, in potentially her final game, she just scared you to death," said SFA head coach Brandon Schneider. "There was a stretch in there where I feel like she tried to take over, and I was impressed with the way our girls handled the situation and really made some winning plays down the stretch."
After a 3-pointer by Herbert had cut the Sugar Bear deficit to four with 2:51 left, Rogers got UCA a step closer by hitting one of two free throws with 2:12 left to make it 57-54 SFA. Following a Daylyn Harris free throw for the Ladyjacks, Courtney Duever made it a two-point game with a layup with 1:35 to go.
Another SFA basket extended the lead to four, but the Sugar Bears had an answer in the form of a layup and free throw from Watkins to make it 60-59 with 1:05 showing on the clock.
Rogers came up with a huge steal along the baseline 20 seconds later, and the Sugar Bears called their final timeout with 40 seconds showing. They got a look with 20 seconds left, but Duever's shot was off the mark. She followed the shot, however, and in the ensuing battle for the rebound the ball deflected out of bounds off of an SFA player.
That gave the Sugar Bears what could have been the final possession, up until the final turnover returned the ball to SFA.
The loss concluded a great four-year run by this group of Sugar Bear seniors who won 81 games, the program's first Southland Conference championship, made their first two Division I postseason appearances, and recorded their first wins over teams from the SEC, Big Ten and C-USA. It also ended the decorated career of Herbert, just the second three-time Player of the Year in the Southland Conference and the league's fourth four-time first-team all-conference selection.
She ends with 2,329 points and 1,446 rebounds – one of just nine players in Division I history with more than 2,300 and 1,400.
"When I came to Central Arkansas my freshman year, all we wanted to do was build the program up," she said. "Having the mentality of just wanting to go out and win and put UCA on the map is just how I got all the records. Winning the player of the years and awards just came along with me trying to build up this program and putting UCA women's basketball on the map in Division I. It was such a great opportunity for me. Now that it's over, I don't know what to say. It is truly amazing."
In their final games in a Central Arkansas uniform, Rogers had seven points, four rebounds, two blocks, an assist and a steal in 34 minutes, while Gowans added six points, two assists, a rebound and a steal in 16 minutes. Porsha Roberts led SFA with 18 points, while Henderson had 12.