“Stay the course” was the mantra for Arkansas Tech University during a late-season surge that allowed the Golden Suns to clinch their 13th consecutive postseason berth.
Never was that phrase more applicable than it was on Thursday afternoon in the first round of the Great American Conference Tournament at Bruin Fieldhouse in Bartlesville, Okla.
No. 7 seed Arkansas Tech defeated No. 2 seed East Central University 76-74 in double overtime to advance to the semifinal round at 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, March 9. Radio station KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com will provide live coverage.
The Golden Suns (14-15) won despite three of their starters — Hannah Villines, Ke’Vonshaye Stackhouse and Ryann Goodsell — fouling out of the game.
“We faced tons of adversity today,” said Dave Wilbers, ATU head coach. “I thought the big thing was the way we started. We got off to a fast start, and (ECU) had to work hard to catch up. We have a lot of experience here, and this time of year it’s all about playing possession-by-possession. We stayed the course.”
Arkansas Tech jumped out to a 10-2 lead over the first two minutes and led 22-17 after one quarter. The Suns’ advantage was 39-36 at halftime and it was tied 50-50 after three periods.
East Central forced the first overtime on a Madison Rehl steal and layup with 54.8 seconds left in regulation. The two sides went to free basketball with the score tied 62-62.
Tech’s Jayana Sanders made 2-of-2 free throws with 23.3 seconds left in the first overtime to eventually send the game to a second extra period at 68-68.
The Golden Suns took control early in double overtime and never gave it back. A Kiara Moses free throw, Sanders offensive rebound and put-back basket and two Jacie Higgins free throws staked ATU to a 73-68 lead at the 3:46 mark.
ECU pulled within one of the lead, but the Suns stretched it back out to 76-72 on a transition layup by Moses with 2:06 left and a Lyrik Williams free throw at the 1:26 mark.
Sam Schwab scored a second-chance layup for the Tigers with 1:14 left and ECU had a chance to tie the score with 1.5 seconds remaining, but both of its free throws were no good and ATU held on for its seventh consecutive women’s basketball semifinal berth at the GAC Tournament.
Villines had 18 points and seven rebounds for the Suns. Sanders notched 14 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Williams added 12 points and eight rebounds, while Goodsell contributed 10 points and nine rebounds. Higgins finished with nine points, six rebounds and five assists.
The Golden Suns, defending GAC Tournament champions, improved to 15-4 all-time in the event, 7-1 in first-round games and 3-0 against East Central in the event. It marked the second consecutive year in which ATU eliminated the Tigers in the first round.
ECU senior Tia Williams netted 18 points in her final collegiate game. Her fellow senior, Lakin Preisner, had 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Tigers.
East Central finished its season with a record of 21-8.