Arkansas Tech clinched a share of the inaugural Great American Conference men’s basketball championship with a win at Harding on Monday night, but the Wonder Boys are not interested in splitting that trophy in two.
Nationally 17th-ranked Arkansas Tech (20-4 overall, 12-2 GAC) will get its first opportunity to clinch the title outright when it visits the Ouachita Baptist Tigers (14-10, 7-7) in GAC action on Thursday, Feb. 23.
Tip-off at Vining Arena in Arkadelphia is set for 7:30 p.m. Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the broadcast.
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The Wonder Boys are two games in front of Henderson State (15-9, 10-4) with two regular season games remaining. Arkansas Tech will conclude its 2011-12 regular season by hosting Southern Arkansas at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Tech has put itself in position to win the GAC title outright with a nine-game winning streak. In order to make it 10 in a row, the Wonder Boys must find a way to contain Ouachita Baptist’s Austin Mitchell.
Mitchell scored 30 points in the Tigers’ 93-86 overtime win over Henderson State on Monday. He was 7-of-12 from 3-point range.
Arkansas Tech held Mitchell to seven points in an 82-67 Wonder Boys’ victory over Ouachita Baptist on Jan. 26. The man with the primary defensive assignment on Mitchell that night was the player who has emerged as Tech’s defensive stopper --- senior point guard Mykel Cleveland.
“We challenged Mykel that night, and he responded with perhaps the best individual defensive performance we’ve had from a player this year,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Doug Karleskint. “He hounded Mitchell all night. They run Mitchell off so many screens, and it seemed like Mykel was able to stay right with him all night. We’re going to challenge Mykel again and see if he can do it for a second time.”
The Wonder Boys lead the GAC in turnover margin (+5.67 turnovers per game). Cleveland has been a big part of that story as of late by making 41 assists and just 12 turnovers during Tech’s nine-game winning streak.
Ouachita Baptist counters with a defense that leads the league in steals (10.8 per game).
“We can’t get rattled,” said Karleskint. “Protecting the basketball will be a huge key in the game. Ouachita has really gotten in the passing lanes and pressured the basketball their last few games.”
Johnie Davis scored 19 points to lead four Wonder Boys in double figures in scoring when Tech beat OBU last month. Matt Haney added 16 points, while Jared Williamson scored 15 points and made six assists and Cleveland had 10 points.
The Wonder Boys made 10-of-23 shots (44 percent) from 3-point range against the Tigers, compared to just 2-of-12 shooting (17 percent) by Ouachita Baptist. The Tigers were led in a losing cause by Julian LaDay with 20 points and five steals.
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