On The Road Again: Tech Visits HSU Saturday

Four teams jockeying for position in the early Great American Conference basketball races will hit the floor at the Duke Wells Center in Arkadelphia for a Great American Conference doubleheader on Saturday, Jan. 21. The nationally ninth-ranked Arkansas Tech Golden Suns (10-2 overall, 2-2 GAC) will try to knock off the GAC-leading Henderson State Lady Reddies (11-3, 4-0) at 2 p.m. The nightcap will pit the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (11-3, 3-1) against the Henderson State Reddies (8-6, 3-1) for a 4 p.m. tip-off. Both games can be heard on KWKK 100.9 FM.

Click here to access an Internet stream of the broadcast. The Golden Suns stopped a two-game losing streak with a 61-55 victory over Southeastern Oklahoma State on Thursday. Arkansas Tech held the Savage Storm without a made field goal for the final 4:52 of the game as the Suns extended their home winning streak to 42 consecutive games. Tech’s women are led in scoring by senior forward Natalia Santos (18.3 points per game), junior guard Rosie Silva (12.4 points per game) and junior forward Jessica Weatherford (11.5 points per game). Saturday’s game will be a match-up of the top two scoring offenses in GAC women’s basketball. Arkansas Tech leads the league in scoring at 82.8 points per game, while Henderson State is a close second with an 80.0 points per game average. The Lady Reddies have won seven of their last eight games, and they stand alone in first place as the only team without a GAC loss. “Henderson State plays at a very high pace,” said Golden Suns head coach Dave Wilbers. “They love to shoot the ball quick, and they have a high intensity defense. We’ve played in some great games at Henderson State. It will be difficult over there, but it’s always difficult in our league. I don’t foresee anyone dominating our league this year.” Senior guard Cheree Freeman (15.0 points per game), senior forward Chrystal Harrison (11.0 points per game), junior guard Sheay Longstaff (10.9 points per game) and senior post Joycelyn Taylor (10.4 points per game) are the top scorers for Henderson State’s women. The second half of Saturday’s twin bill in the Loveliest Village on the Ouachita River will be a battle of Doug vs. Doug. That’s Karleskint of Arkansas Tech against Nichols of Henderson State, two old friends who will face each other as head coaches for the first time. They both served on head coach Danny Kasper’s coaching staff at Stephen F. Austin University before their paths led them to Arkansas.

Karleskint came to Arkansas Tech as an assistant coach in 2009. When he was promoted to head coach in April 2010, he hired Nichols as his top assistant. In their one year together on the Wonder Boys’ bench, Karleskint and Nichols led Arkansas Tech to a 25-6 overall record, a Gulf South Conference West Division title and a trip to the second round of the NCAA Division II Tournament. That success opened the door for Nichols’ first head coaching opportunity, and it came less than two hours away at conference rival Henderson State. Nichols has awakened a Reddie program that finished with a 7-19 overall record in 2010-11 and came into this year with a string of four consecutive losing seasons. Henderson State has won four of its last five games, including a 95-85 win over Arkansas-Monticello last Saturday. It was the first league loss of the season for the Boll Weevils. “Coach Nichols is a fiery guy and a great Xs and Os guy,” said Karleskint. “He worked under Billy Gillespie when he was at Texas A&M, and he learned a lot from him. Doug is a very hard worker. I’m happy for him. I hope he wins every game every year except for two, or maybe three if we meet them in the conference tournament.” Arkansas Tech is led by senior guard Johnie Davis (23.7 points per game). He has reached double figures in scoring in 41 of his 45 career games as a Wonder Boy.

A pair of juniors, both of whom are new to the HSU program this season, are the Reddies’ top two scorers. Forward Andrew Ensley averages 15.0 points per contest, while guard Denzel Lyles contributes 13.4 points per game.

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