Arkansas Tech tops West Texas A&M
Wonder Boys jump out to 21-point lead, hold on for victory
WICHITA FALLS, Texas -- Arkansas Tech jumped out to a 21-point lead in the first half on Saturday afternoon and held off a second-half rally by West Texas A&M to open the NCAA Division II South Central Regional Tournament with a 79-68 victory in first-round action at D.L. Ligon Coliseum.
Tech used nine 3-pointers and 53 percent shooting from the field to take a 48-31 lead at the half to earn its fourth consecutive first-round victory in NCAA DII Regional play.
“I really thought we did a great job early on attacking the basket and speading them [West Texas] out and that led to us getting a lot of good looks at the basket,” Arkansas Tech head coach Doug Karleskint said. “We were able to hit some shots early and take them out of their game.”
The keys coming into Saturday’s game according to Karleskint were to limit turnovers by his team and to speed the game up and dictate the tempo. Tech committed just nine turnovers and became just the third this season to score 70 points against the Buffs. WTAMU entered the game allowing just 57.5 points per game, which was third-best in Division II.
“I thought we did a good job taking care of the ball and we were also able to dictate the tempo early in the game, but we knew West Texas would respond in the second half and they did," Karleskint added. “I want to congratulate West Texas A&M, they are a good team and are well coached. It was a battle out there.”
In Saturday’s game, Tech (25-5 on the season) jumped out to an 8-0 lead, before the Buffs used a 13-8 run to pull within 16-13 following a 3-pointer by Tez Dumars.
The Wonder Boys used a 24-8 run over the next seven-plus minutes to push out to a 40-21 lead following a four-point play by Jeremy Hoard. Hoard hit a trey and was fouled on the shot by WTAMU’s Lionel Foster with 4:20 left in the game. During the run, Hoard hit two 3-pointers and Will Paul scored six of his team-high 16 points. Hoard finished the game with 13 points on 4-for-6 shooting from downtown.
“We were able to move the ball around early in the game and get their defense shifting and once that happened, our shooters we able to spot up and hit some shots,” Jared Williamson said. Williamson finished the game with 11 points, seven rebounds and career-high tying seven assists.
Tech’s lead hit 21 points in the half on a 3-pointer by Johnie Davis with 1:22 left in the half, before the Buffs scored the final four points to push Tech’s halftime lead to 48-31.
The Buffs, who finish the season 19-9 overall, got back into the game in the second half by driving the basket, drawing fouls and going to the free throw line as the Buffs shot 12-for-18 at the line in the final half. In addition, WTAMU’s defense also forced Tech into 31 percent shooting from the field and a 1-for-9 (11 percent) effort from the 3-point line.
“West Texas A&M did a good job in the second half on the defensive end of the floor. They made us settle for jump shots and they attacked us on the offensive end,” Karleskint said, who won his 50th game as Tech’s coach on Saturday.
The Buffs used a 23-12 run over a span of nearly 12 minutes to turn a 59-40 Tech lead into a 71-63 lead following a lay-up and free throw by Donald Sims with 2:29 left in the game.
Tech, though, would push its lead back to 75-63 following a lay-up by Paul and two free throws from Williamson, before the Buffs pulled within 75-68 with 1:30 left in the game on a basket by David Henderson, but Tech sealed the win by scoring the final four points.
“Our guard play and our depth are two of our strengths and we showed that today,” Mykel Cleveland said. Cleveland finished with his second double-double of the season as he scored 11 points and added a career-high 10 rebounds.
Tech, who put six players in double figures, also got 13 points from Matt Haney and 11 points from Davis. With his 11 points, Davis became the 27th Wonder Boy to tally 1,100 career points in school history as he has now scored 1,104 career points.
Sims led the Buffs with 23 points and 10 rebounds, while Dumars added 18 points and Foster chipped in with 11 points and nine rebounds in the loss. WTAMU finished with a 38-37 edge on the glass after entering the game with a +6.3 rebound margin on the season.
For the game, Tech shot 43 percent from the field and 44 percent from the 3-point line, while WTAMU shot 42 percent from the field, including shooting 46 percent from the floor in the second half and the Buffs shot just 14 percent from the 3-point line.