Arkansas Tech heads to regional final
Golden Suns rally from nine-point halftime deficit to advance
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas Tech rallied from a nine-point halftime deficit Saturday evening to post an 82-74 come-from-behind victory against Florida Tech in the semifinals of the NCAA Division II South Regional in front of nearly 1,900 fans at Tucker Coliseum.
With the win, Arkansas Tech improved to 29-2 on the season and extended its homecourt win streak to 35 consecutive games, which is tied for the second-longest streak in school history. It is also the second-longest active streak in Division II after Fort Lewis’ 77-66 overtime loss on Friday night to Adams State.
“Our team didn’t show any panic tonight and that’s what I liked about them. We’ve trailed in games this season, so we just kept battling and battling,” Golden Suns coach Dave Wilbers said. “We just stayed with our game plan and we starting hitting our shots in the second half.”
One night after shooting nearly 60 percent from the field, Tech shot 42 percent, but needed 52 percent shooting after halftime to increase that percentage. In addition to shooting 42 percent from the floor, the Golden Suns shot 41 percent from the 3-point line.
In the first half, Tech struggled shooting the basketball as the Golden Suns connected on just 32 percent of its shots, but tied the game twice, including the final time on a 3-pointer by senior All-American guard Jenny Vining with 2:25 left in the half. The Panthers, who concluded the season with a 24-9 record, closed out the half on a 9-0 run to go into halftime with a 37-28 lead.
Arkansas Tech opened the second half on an 11-2 run to tie the game at 39 on a lay-up by junior forward Katie Horsman with 16:17 left in the game. Florida Tech, though, used back-to-back 3-pointers from Lynisha Nelson and Ashton McClairen to take a 45-39 lead with 15:25 left.
Following McClairen’s trey, sophomore forward Jessica Weatherford answered with a three-point play to jump start a 20-5 run that pushed the Golden Suns lead to 59-50. The run was capped by back-to-back 3-pointers from Vining. Vining finished the game with a season-high 29 points, including hitting six 3-pointers for the second consecutive game. The six 3-pointers tied Arkansas Tech’s NCAA Division II tournament record for treys in a game.
The Panthers chipped away at the Golden Suns lead as they eventually tied the game on a lay-up by Tamara Dowdell with 5:02 left in the game. That would be as close as Florida Tech would get as Tech used a 16-3 run during the final five minutes of the game to seal the win and clinch its fourth regional final appearance in the program’s Division II history.
Arkansas Tech’s closing run was begun by back-to-back three-point plays from Vining and senior guard Laura Beth Anderson.
Vining was joined in double figures by junior forward Natalia Santos, who recorded her 10th double-double of the season with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Anderson added 14 points, five boards and six assists and Weatherford added 13 points and seven boards.
McClairen led the way for the Panthers with 20 points, while Nelson tallied a double-double of 17 points and 12 assists and Dowdell added 13 and eight boards.
The Golden Suns were outrebounded, 47-41, including 22-12 on the offensive glass. Florida Tech’s Briauna Hagins pulled down 20 boards in the loss.