Wonder Boys win last 3 to advance to GAC tournament

Five Arkansas Tech (15-13, 11-9) players dropped double digits on the road in its final regular season game as the Wonder Boys swiped an 83-76 win over Arkansas at Monticello (7-18, 3-17 GAC) Saturday before heading into the Great American Conference Tournament.

“It’s always tough to go into Monticello and win,” said head coach Chad Kline. “We’ve struggled there in the past for sure. We had guys banged up [Gary Gaskins, Derrick Little] and only played eight, but the eight we played stepped up and got it done.”

With junior guards D.J. Jethroe (9/16, 18 points, 6 boards) and Branden Williams (5/9, 13 points, 10 rebounds) leading offensively, Tech outshot the Boll Weevils 49.2 percent-42.5 percent from the field, 36.4 percent- 30.8 percent from deep and 81 percent 60 percent at the line.

Senior guard Tyler Friedel contributed 13 points, nine of which came from behind the arc. Two more senior guards, Mike Balogun with 13-points and Jay Murphy with 10, also had impressive offensive showings.

The Wonder Boys rebounded five more balls than the home team, but UAM took the advantage on second-chance points (11-4), points off turnovers (24-13) and fast break points (12-0).Both teams matched with 34 points coming in the paint.

The first half was back and forth throughout, featuring eight lead changes and seven ties. Tech held a tight lead in the opening five minutes, making it 6-2 on a Friedel jumper. With 5:24 remaining in the half, UAM took over 30-27 on a 6-point run. Neither team would lead by more than three until Tech extended the gap to 42-37 before heading into halftime.

A pair of Friedel 3-pointers would help put the Wonder Boys up 54-44 with 16:52 left in the game. UAM then went on a 9-point run and eventually tied it up 58-58.The teams traded one-possession leads until Tech went ahead by 12, securing a 79-67 with 3:15 on the clock.

The Boll Weevils dug in and brought themselves to within 5 on a fast-break layup with just more than a minute to play.

Jethroe added the final nail with a dunk that sealed it. UAM let fly two more three balls before the game’s end, but neither found the bottom of the net.

Tech will play in the first round of the GAC tournament against fourth seed Southeastern Oklahoma State, who is also 15-13, 11-9, in Bartlesville, Okla., on Friday at 8 p.m.

“We’ve stayed together despite the rough patches throughout the year,” Kline said. “We haven’t quit, and we’ve started shooting the ball a lot better. We’ll have to the conference tournament to make it to the NCAA tournament, and that’s what we plan on doing.”
The Wonder Boys annual home matchup against Harding (12-13, 10-9 GAC) Feb. 26 was anything but ordinary.

Clarence Willard made a buzzer beater to lift Tech 77-76 over the Bison before a crowd of 2,128 at Tucker Coliseum.

It was deja vu for the Willard, as he made a 3-point buzzer beater the game before at Southeastern Oklahoma to repeat history.

Down 76-75 with 3.8 seconds remaining in overtime, Murphy inbounded to Willard, who drove toward the basket. He didn’t quit when the ball was squatted by a Harding defender — he grabbed the loose ball and forced a shot on the right short corner for a buzzer-beating victory over the rival Bison.

Harding defeated Tech 89-80 at Rhodes Field House earlier in the season.

Jethroe led Tech with 22 points.