Cole-less Tigers fall in Arkansas

East Central women’s basketball head coach Matt Cole listens while assistant Heather Robbens gives the Tigers some instructions in action earlier this season. Robben stepped in for Cole during Saturday’s contest at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, when the veteran ECU coach had to miss the trips due to back spasms.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — East Central University women’s basketball head coach Matt Cole experienced something Saturday for the first time during his long coaching career — he missed his team play.

The Tigers dropped a 60-55 decision at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Saturday at the Stubblefield Center. Cole was forced to stay home after suffering from severe back spasms just before he and the team departed Ada.

“Today was a tough day for me. It was the first time in 19 years since I’ve been coaching college basketball that I’ve missed a game,” Cole said via his Twitter account. “Down with severe back spasms. I’m so grateful to have (assistants) Heather Robben and Jeff McGaha to pick up my slack daily.”

The Tigers fell to 2-6 overall, while Arkansas-Forth Smith improved to 4-3.

The game was tied at 27-27 at halftime, and the Tigers carried a 42-38 lead into the fourth quarter.

A layup by Madison Nickens with 5:47 to play put ECU ahead 50-44.

The Lady Lions went ahead for good with a 3-point basket from Paige Elston — her only one of the game — with 3:14 remaining. She led UAFS with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting from the field.

Hannah Ladd sank a free throw with 13 seconds left that cut the UAFS lead to 58-55, missed the next one and grabbed her own rebound. But a turnover gave the Lady Lions the ball, and Alexsis Brown iced the game for the home team with two free shots with :08 showing.

Mar’Shallia Lollie scored eight points to go with a game-best 13 rebounds for the Arkansas club.

Kendall Schulte and Madison Rehl both scored 11 points to pace a balanced ECU offense. Schulte added four rebounds and two steals, while Rehl finished with seven assists.

Sam Schwab collected eight points and 10 rebounds for the Tigers.

UAFS sank 18-of-21 free throws (85.7%), compared to an 8-of-12 (66.7%) showing for ECU.

The Tigers host Oklahoma Baptist at 1 p.m. Saturday inside the Kerr Activities Center.

Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.

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