LAKE CHARLES – McNeese entered Saturday’s Southland Conference season opener against Central Arkansas ranked No. 1 in the league and 16th in the nation in both rebounds per game and rebounding margin, but the Cowboys were without KeyShawn Feazell, the league’s top rebounder who ranks No. 3 in the nation, for the third straight game due to COVID protocol, Central Arkansas was able to capitalize on its size to help lead it to an 81-67 win over the Cowboys in Burton Coliseum.
The Bears (2-7, 1-0 SLC) out-rebounded the Cowboys (6-4, 0-1) by a 45-30 margin and scored 34 points in the paint while McNeese was held to its second-lowest rebounding total of the season (27 at SFA on Dec. 4).
In addition to missing Feazell’s 13 rebounds and 13 points per game, the Cowboys posted their worst shooting night of the season at 32 percent.
McNeese scored the game’s first nine points and UCA didn’t get on the board until five minutes into the game, but the Bears outscored the Cowboys 43-22 over the next 15 minutes to take a 43-31 lead into the break.
“I thought we did some good things early but then we struggled against their size,” said head coach Heath Schroyer. “Not having KeyShawn really hurt us. He’s one of the top rebounders in the country. We got beat on the glass by 15 so you would think that he would’ve cleaned up a few of those.
“We have to score when we get the ball in the paint. We were minus 15 on the glass, minus 18 in the paint, and it’s hard to win games when you’re that deficient inside the paint.”
The size difference played a big part in the game.
“Against them (UCA) it really hurt us because we had no rim protection and didn’t have the best rebounder on our team in there.”
Dru Kuxhausen led McNeese with 22 points after knocking down 6 of 11 from three-point range. A.J. Lawson added 12 points and a game-high 11 rebounds and Braelon Bush scored 12 to go along with four assists and a steal.
“That was one of the bright spots was Dru finding a rhythm and was able to knock some shots down,” said Schroyer.
UCA grabbed its largest lead at 59-42 after a Khaleem Bennett dunk with 12:34 to play but Kuxhausen answered with one of his 3s to close the gap to 14 points.
Six minutes later, Kuxhausen drained another 3 to get the deficit into single digits for the first time since the first half at 67-59 with 6:42 to play, then after a Lawson rebound on a UCA miss, the senior was sent to the free-throw line to attempt to cut further into the lead, but he missed both and UCA would end up hitting one of two free throws of its own to go back up by nine.
At the 4:21 mark, Lawson pulled McNeese to within 68-61 after hitting a free throw and then Jeremy Harrell sank two freebies to make it 70-63 with 3:46 to play. But the Bears had an answer and rolled off nine straight points to put the game away.
“I give them (UCA) a lot of credit,” said Schroyer. “I think they’re a really good basketball team. They’re big and strong and also have big guys that can shoot it and they have an elite senior point guard. When you have those things you’re going to be good.”
Ryan Bergersen led four Bear double-figure scorers with 18 points. Deandre Jones added 14 while Jared Chatham and Bennett each scored 13.
The Cowboys won’t return to action until next Saturday, January 9, when they host Northwestern State at 4 p.m. in Burton Coliseum.