No. 2 Wonder Boys Host Reddies Thursday

The target on the backs of the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys just got a little bigger. Now the question becomes how will they respond to taking every opponent’s best shot? 
The nationally second-ranked Wonder Boys (14-0 overall, 1-0 Gulf South Conference) will put their highest ranking ever on the line Thursday night when they host Henderson State (7-7, 0-1).

Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. at Tucker Coliseum. Tickets will be available at the gate. Admission will be free with a valid Tech identification card.

These are uncharted waters for the Arkansas Tech men’s basketball program. It was just three years ago that the Wonder Boys were 6-21 overall, 1-13 in league play and completing a streak of seven consecutive losing seasons.

The turning point came in February 2008, when Arkansas Tech picked up late-season wins over traditional powers Harding and Delta State to earn its first berth in the GSC Tournament since 2000.

Tech beat Alabama-Huntsville in the opening round of the 2008 GSC Tournament for the Wonder Boys’ first postseason win in 12 years. One year later, Tech returned to the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss., and walked away with the 2009 GSC Tournament title.

The Wonder Boys went on to earn their first-ever berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament, win their first-round game in the NCAA South Regional and finish the 2008-09 season with a 23-9 overall record.

With that, Arkansas Tech was back on the map in men’s basketball for the first time since making back-to-back NAIA National Tournament appearances in 1995 and 1996.

Success is said to breed success, and the 2009-10 Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys season has proven why that phrase was long ago elevated to cliché status.

Tech’s 14-0 start is its best since the 1952-53 Wonder Boys won their first 24 games.

Arkansas Tech leads all of NCAA Division II in turnover margin (+7.8 per game), and the Wonder Boys rank among the national leaders in scoring margin (2nd, +26.4 points per game); scoring defense (7th, 56.4 points allowed per game); field goal percentage defense (10th, 37.4 percent); 3-point field goal percentage defense (13th, 27.3 percent); 3-point field goals made (14th, 9.1); steals per game (14th, 10.8); and rebound margin (16th, +9.1 rebounds per game). 

Senior guard Brandon Friedel, who was a freshman on that 6-21 team in 2006-07, has turned into one of the best perimeter shooters in the nation. The Victoria, Texas, native ranks fifth in NCAA Division II in 3-point field goal percentage (51.7 percent) and 19th in the nation in 3-point field goals made (3.2).

Friedel leads the Wonder Boys and ranks fifth in the GSC in scoring at 16.6 points per contest.

That is all bad news for a Henderson State squad that ranks last in the Gulf South in defending the 3-point arc (38.3 percent).

The Reddies are also at the bottom of the GSC in scoring defense (77.9 points allowed per game) after taking a 94-54 shellacking at Harding on Saturday night.

The margin of defeat was surprising given the fact that Henderson State had won five of its last seven games before venturing to Searcy.

However, it was less surprising given the Reddies’ lack of success away from home this season. Henderson State is 7-1 inside the Duke Wells Center in 2009-10; it is 0-6 everywhere else.

One aspect of the game that the Reddies have been consistently good at regardless of venue has been scoring. Henderson State averages 75.2 points per game, sixth-best in the 14-member GSC.

That potent attack is led by 6-foot-8 junior forward Lance Smith. A transfer from Southwest Tennessee Community College, Smith ranks among the GSC leaders in scoring (3rd, 18.4 points per game), rebounding (1st, 12.9 per game), blocked shots (1st, 1.93 per game) and field goal percentage (5th, 51.5 percent).

Smith is second in all of NCAA Division II in rebounding, and he is the only player in the GSC averaging a double-double so far this season.

Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and will have live play-by-play coverage of Thursday’s game.