Wednesday night belonged to a rash of top-five losses as No. 2 Kansas fell to Washington while, more interesting for our purposes, Loyola Chicago shocked No. 5 Florida in Gainesville.
Amid that noise, the Southland had a special night that deserves a spotlight of its own.
The headliner was Central Arkansas hammering a sagging Cal team by 27 points in Berkeley. Say what you will about the Golden Bears — whose 3-6 record contains a Maui loss to Chaminade — but a win in a Pac-12 gym is always worth celebrating.
A potent UCA offense had its most efficient outing of the season, scoring a season-best 1.25 points per possession. The Bears raced out to a 20-point halftime lead, throttling the Cal offense in the final 10 minutes of the first half with a barrage of turnovers.
The most impressive part of the win was that UCA didn’t let Cal get a sniff of a second-half rally.
"I really thought the first five minutes of the second half were vital,' said UCA head coach Russ Pennell. "I told the guys at halftime that the hardest thing to do is to play with a big lead. If you don't watch it, you'll play too casual, try things you can't do, or you'll play too tight and won't take advantage of mistakes the other team makes. I told them to make sure you play to what we were doing.
Pennell’s team listened, scoring 51 second half points.
They were led by star senior point guard Jordan Howard, who scored a game-high 26 points and fueled the Bears’ 12-for-24 night from distance with five three pointers. Senior forward Mathieu Kamba also had a great night, with 23 points (10-10 FT) and seven rebounds.
For many, the story will be UCA jumping on a severely-rebuilding program at the right time. But the Bears took UCLA to overtime earlier in the year, and let a road win slip away at San Francisco earlier in the week. The roster has a ton of continuity, and has shown that it could be factor in the Southland race.
But how about the ultimate Southland X-factor?
Stephen F. Austin sat at 7-1 going into Wednesday night, but had built that gaudy record by beating three non-Div. I teams and no one within the KenPom top 174. The best victory was an ugly game against North Dakota State at home.
The Jacks now have something to brag about. They got an instant boost of credibility by beating a very good Louisiana Tech team in Ruston. Sophomore Kevon Harris continued a breakout 2017-18, scoring 25 points while shooting 10-for-11 from the field.
Take a look at this breakdown of Kyle Keller’s biggest win since arriving in Nacogdoches:
The last time SFA beat LA Tech in Ruston:— SFA Basketball (@SFA_MBB) December 7, 2017
• MJ was in his 2nd year in the NBA
• Microsoft released the Windows 1.0 OS
• Kevon Harris was 12 years away from being born
Here's all the numbers from SFA's first win over a top-20 RPI team since beating WVU in 2016. #AxeEm pic.twitter.com/fmEGtfUvqR
SFA is making the case that it’s set to return to its place in the mid-major throne room.
Unlike last year, the team is healthy and getting star production from T.J. Holyfield, and quality minutes from Ivan Kanete and Leon Gilmore. On top of that, Harris and JuCo transfer Shannon Bogues (15.3 PPG) have added a scoring punch. If senior guard Ty Charles — who made his season debut just three games ago — can get healthy, the Jacks have scary depth.
And finally, we can’t forget another purple-clad Southland squad that had a great Wednesday night.
Abilene Christian picked up a win at Air Force, giving Joe Golding and the Wildcats their first victory over a Mountain West team in their Div. I history.
ACU now has two true road wins, as well as a neutral court win against Bowling Green. This always looked like a promising year for a talented team that has one of the most skilled mid-major big men in Jalone Friday (15.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 41.2 3P%). The Wildcats bring their efficient offense home to play a winnable game against Texas State on Saturday.