The 100th season of Arkansas Tech University men’s basketball has included several milestones.
Most overall wins (14), most Great American Conference wins (12) and longest winning streak (5 games) since 2017-18. Twice as many road wins (6) as the Wonder Boys had the last three seasons combined (3). First time to win consecutive road games since 2019. First road win at Ouachita Baptist University since 2018. First road win at Southeastern Oklahoma State since 2017. First road win at East Central University since 2014. First road win at Drury University ever after 13 previous tries.
Arkansas Tech (14-14) has an opportunity to take another step forward this weekend when it competes in the GAC Tournament at FireLake Arena in Shawnee, Okla.
The fifth-seeded Wonder Boys will begin their first earned postseason berth in five years by facing the No. 4 seed East Central Tigers (18-10) in a first-round game at 5:45 p.m. Friday, March 3. Live coverage will be available on KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com.
It’s all part of the progress being made by Mark Downey, ATU head men’s basketball coach, in his second rebuild of the Wonder Boys.
When Downey first arrived at Arkansas Tech in 2006-07, he inherited a program that had experienced six consecutive losing seasons and was a decade removed from its most recent postseason victory.
Over the span of four years, Downey took the Wonder Boys from 6-21 overall his first season to 30-2 overall and a No. 1 national ranking in 2009-10, back-to-back Gulf South Conference Tournament championships (2009 and 2010), the 2010 GSC West Division regular season title and back-to-back second-round appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament (2009 and 2010).
After a decade away, Downey returned to Arkansas Tech in 2020 and set about the task of once again making the Wonder Boys champions. The middle of a global pandemic was not the easiest circumstance under which to change the program’s culture and trajectory, but Downey is West Virginia tough. He stuck with it through the hardest of times, and now, the Wonder Boys are back in the mix.
Among the reasons Arkansas Tech is a threat to make a run at the GAC Tournament are its defense (top four in the league in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense) and the emergence of sophomore guard Taelon Peter of Russellville as a No. 1 scoring option.
Peter matched or exceeded his previous career high in scoring three times in the last five games of the regular season, including a career-best 33 points against Southern Arkansas University on Saturday. He averaged 23.8 points per game during the final two weeks of February.
“When Taelon’s open, he’s got to shoot it,” said Downey. “He’s got to understand that he has the green light and there’s no pressure on him. It’s been fun to watch him come on late in the season. I hope he continues that.”
Talk to you on the radio.
Tech Tidbits is a column written by Sam Strasner, ATU director of university relations and radio play-by-play voice for ATU football and basketball.