KATY, Texas -- Brianna Mullins scored 17 points and top-seeded Central Arkansas earned its first NCAA Tournament berth in a 69-62 victory over No. 7 seed Sam Houston State on Sunday in the championship game of the Southland Conference Tournament.
The Sugar Bears wore down Sam Houston State, which played four games in four days, and had a 46-27 advantage on the glass -- with 19 offensive rebounds. Central Arkansas received a double-bye to the semifinals.
"I think the biggest thing that hurt us was rebounds," Sam Houston State coach Brenda Welch-Nichols said. "I think our defense stuck hard at it but I think our rebounds hurt us. I think for four games the way we have played, playing out of their minds for three games, we knew fatigue would be a little bit of a factor. We're going out and playing hard, we just didn't get the ball to bounce our way."
Maggie Proffitt added 11 points for Central Arkansas (28-3), which was playing in its first tournament championship since 2011. Prior to this season, the Sugar Bears had lost five straight games in the tournament.
Angela Beadle recorded her fourth straight double-double of the tournament with 25 points and 12 rebounds for Sam Houston State (14-18). She totaled 80 points in four days and was named the MVP.
The Bearkats were the second team seeded seventh or higher to reach the Southland title game.
After close-range misses on Sam Houston State's previous two possessions, Beadle converted a 3-point play with 3:41 left to pull the Bearkats within 60-57. She then affected a Central Arkansas shot inside and grabbed the last rebounded needed for her double-double. On their next possession, Shernise Robertson buried a long jumper to make it 60-59.
But Jameka Watkins made a contested layup to extend Central Arkansas' lead to 62-59 and she hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1:44 left for a 63-59 lead. Proffitt added two at the stripe with 26.6 seconds left for a six-point lead.
Kamry Orr banked in a long 3-pointer to pull to 65-62 with 22.5 seconds left, but Proffitt sealed it by making 4 of 4 free throws from there.
In the first half, Mullins hit a 3-pointer from straight away with the shot clock winding down to extend Central Arkansas' lead to 36-26 with 2:37 left in the first half. But Sam Houston State closed the half on a 9-0 run, capped by Orr's 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left, to pull to 36-35 at the break. Orr was fouled on the play but missed the free throw and the Bearkats were off the mark on a put-back attempt.
Beadle hit 6 of 6 free throws in the first half and had 14 points for Sam Houston State, which was 11 of 22 from the field. Mullins had 10 points for Central Arkansas on 4-of-6 shooting.
Sam Houston State: Angela Beadle had 10 straight double-doubles to close the season and had 22nd on the season. She scored 20-plus for the eighth time this season. ... The Bearkats were trying to become the lowest seed to win the Southland Conference Tournament.
Central Arkansas: The Sugar Bears entered the tournament with four straight one-and-done showings. Central Arkansas defeated No. 4 seed McNeese State on Saturday in the semifinals for its first win in three tries against the Cowgirls in Katy.
Sam Houston State: Season over.
Central Arkansas: NCAA Tournament