FORT SMITH, Ark. – Without starting point guard Josh Orta in the lineup Thursday night, the Rattlers figured to rely on star forward/center Kevin Kotzur against the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.
And did they ever rely on the big man from La Vernia, Texas.
The sophomore scored a career-high 34 points, but it wasn’t enough as UA Fort Smith held on late to beat the Rattlers 74-64 at the Stubblefield Center.
D.J. Castro (So., El Paso, Texas) sank a 3-pointer with 3:46 left to trim a once-double-digit deficit to five at 64-59, but the Rattlers couldn’t claw any closer down the stretch.
The Lions pushed the lead back to double figures in the final minute, snapping the Rattlers’ (11-6 overall) five-game win streak. Though the loss came againt a Heartland Conference opponent, UA Fort Smith remains a provoisional member, leaving St. Mary’s 5-0 in league competition.
Kotzur’s 34 points came on a 14-for-21 effort, recording both the second most points and second most field goals on record in the program’s history (the record book is not comprehensive, with complete material dating back only about 10 years). Elliott Henderson holds the program record in both categories with a 51-point performance in which he made 20 field goals against Mary Hardin Baylor on Feb. 27, 1993.
Kotzur’s previous career high was 29, which he achieved twice, including once this season against Texas A&M Commerce on Nov. 27, 2010.
The Rattlers were shorthanded without Orta, who didn’t make the trip after his wife, Valerie, gave birth to their second child earlier this week.
Trying to fill that void, Castro scored a career-high 12 points off the bench.
Kotzur entered the game fresh off of being named the conference’s Player of the Week for the second straight week.
Jeff Campbell (Jr., Allen, Texas) added seven points, four rebounds and four assists.