Fifth-seeded Arkansas Tech (18-13, 11-9) won the Great American Conference championship 80-77 over second seed East Central (22-9, 13-7) with the help of a career-high 33-point performance from Mike Balogun. The Wonder Boys will face Augustana College at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D. in the NCAA Tournament.
Jay Murphy and Clarence Willard scored 16 and 15 points, respectively. D.J. Jethroe also had 11 points and eight rebounds in the win.
Although the Tigers jumped ahead 17-7 early, the Wonder Boys went on a 14-3 run to go ahead by a point halfway through the first half. ECU would again extend its lead, this time to nine, but Tech’s Balogun nailed a three right before the half to bring his team to within one point (40-39).
After an eight-point run, Tech went ahead for the final time 47-45 with 15:18 left in the second half. At the 7:29 mark the Wonder Boys led by 12, but the Tigers were able to cut the lead down all the way to one point, hitting a 3-pointer with 16 seconds on the clock.
Murphy then nailed a clutch three, and Tech sent ECU to the line to rule out the possibility of a game-tying shot. The Tigers sank both, but Murphy hit his two shots as well after being fouled on the next possession to bring the Wonder Boys lead to 80-77. ECU was able to get off a last-second shot, but it was no good.
Tech outscored ECU 34-24 in the paint but was outrebounded 38-36. The Wonder Boys were also outshot 44.3 percent to 41.8 percent from the field, 46.2 percent to 32.1 percent from three and 91.7 percent to 78.9 percent at the line.
Murphy tallied a career-high 25 points in Tech’s semifinal 85-74 win over eighth seed Southwestern Oklahoma State (16-13). Balogun had 23 and nine boards, and Branden Williams provided sound bench play with 10 points and nine rebounds.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a six-point lead less than a minute into the game, but this is the biggest lead they would see the rest of the evening. The Wonder Boys took a 38-30 lead going into half that they would never surrender.
Tech’s lead grew to 19 (69-50) in the second half, but SWOSU cut the deficit to six with just more than a minute to play.This, however, would be as close as it would come to catching the Wonder Boys.
The Wonder Boys shooting held strong, hitting 54.7 percent from the field and 52.9 of their 3-pointers. Tech won the game down low as well, outrebounding the Bulldogs 40-36 and outscoring SWOSU in the paint 40-28.
Tech advanced from the first round after tying a school record 19 made 3-pointers in a 95-83 win over fourth seed Southeastern Oklahoma State (15-14).
Jethroe led the team in its quarterfinal win with 23 points and 10 boards, shooting 9/11 from the field and 5-6 from behind the arc. Willard and Murphy both contribute 16 points, and Balogun and Tyler Friedel had 14.
The contest was nip and tuck through the first half, but Tech held a 45-43 heading into the locker room.
The Tech lead quickly grew to 10 (54-44) within the first three minutes of the second half, and the Wonder Boys would later extend the gap to as much as 16 at the halfway point in the half.
The Savage Storm rallied all the way back to cut the lead to five points (88-83) with just 57 seconds remaining, but Tech closed out the win with a 7-0 run.
Tech shot 51.6 percent from the field and 51.4 percent from deep, and the Wonder Boys managed to commit only six turnovers all night.