Something clicked for the Arkansas Tech Golden Suns basketball team at halftime of its game at Stephens Arena in San Angelo, Texas, on Saturday.
After six up-and-down quarters to begin their Thanksgiving trip to the Lone Star State, the Golden Suns were unstoppable in the third period against Angelo State University. The same ATU team that was 9-of-33 (27 percent) from the field in the first half connected on 13-of-19 field goal attempts (68 percent) in the third quarter.
Arkansas Tech, which had dropped a 60-57 decision to Texas Woman’s University the day before, turned an eight-point halftime deficit into a 76-63 win on Saturday.
“We started pushing the tempo a little bit,” said Dave Wilbers, ATU head women’s basketball coach and the reigning Great American Conference coach of the year, after the win over Angelo State. “We fell into a half-court game in the first half, and that’s a credit to (Angelo State) because that’s what they tried to do to us. The five starters played well together, but we got some good production out of our bench during that time too. We faced some adversity down here and it was good for us. We learned a lot about ourselves and we can build from that.”
If the Golden Suns (3-1) can carry that momentum over to the beginning of GAC play, it will be bad news for the Ouachita Baptist University Tigers and the University of Arkansas-Monticello Cotton Blossoms.
Game times for a doubleheader between ATU and Ouachita Baptist are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. (women’s) and 7:30 p.m. (men’s) on Thursday, Dec. 2, at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville. Ticket information is available at www.arkansastechsports.com/tickets.
ATU will visit UAM for a 2 p.m. (women’s) and 4 p.m. (men’s) doubleheader at Steelman Field House in Monticello on Saturday, Dec. 4.
Live coverage of all four games will be provided by KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com.
The leadership that made Wonder Boys basketball a championship program once upon a time and will help ATU men's basketball regain that level was evident in the moments following Arkansas Tech’s 70-68 loss at nationally-ranked and undefeated Angelo State on Saturday.
Before I could ask a question in the post-game radio interview, head coach Mark Downey was already pointing at his chest. He blamed himself for not calling a timeout when the Wonder Boys were struggling to inbound the basketball with the score tied and less than 30 seconds remaining. A turnover ensued, and ASU’s Devaughn Thomas made the game-winning 15-foot jump shot with three seconds left.
“That one’s on me,” said Downey. “I’ve done this for too long to make that mistake. I apologize. This is going to be a hard one for me to get over.”
There’s actually not much blame to be placed for that loss or anything else that has happened early in the 2021-22 ATU men’s basketball season.
The Wonder Boys are 2-3, but all three losses have come away from home against top-level opponents from two premier NCAA Division II men’s basketball conferences --- the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and the Lone Star Conference. ATU’s two wins are over MIAA members, including a Missouri Southern State University team picked to finish fourth among the 14 members of that league.
What’s more, a Wonder Boys program that was last in the GAC in field goal percentage defense in the two seasons before Downey’s 2020 return to Arkansas Tech (he previously served as ATU head coach from 2006-10) is now putting on a nightly clinic in ball screen defense and challenging every shot at the rim.
But there was no consoling Downey, no matter how much I tried, on Saturday during that post-game interview. That mindset is one reason the Wonder Boys will soon be a force in GAC men’s basketball…perhaps as early as this season.
“I hope this has made us tougher,” said Downey when asked about his team’s pre-conference schedule. “We just went toe-to-toe with a pretty good and talented team. We just have to learn how to finish. I’ve got to regroup and get these guys ready for Thursday night because now it’s conference play and we’ve really got to get going. We’re battle-tested now. We just have to learn how to finish.”
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.