Tech Tidbits: ATU to Face Mavericks in NCAA 1st Round

Cassius Brooks 3-9-2024
Arkansas Tech junior guard Cassius Brooks (11) averaged 21.3 points per game last week in Shawnee, Okla., and was named Great American Conference Tournament most valuable player after leading the Wonder Boys to their first GAC Tournament championship since 2015.

The challenge posed by nationally second-ranked Minnesota State University to Arkansas Tech University in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament begins with the Willingham brothers of Waseca, Minn.

Malik Willingham, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, and Kyreese Willingham, a 6-foot-5 junior guard, are the Mavericks’ top two scorers. Malik averages 19.1 points and 4.4 assists per game, while Kyreese contributes 14.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

“They are long and can really make plays,” said Mark Downey, ATU head men’s basketball coach, when speaking of the Willingham brothers. “All of (the Mavericks) can shoot it and they’re all pretty athletic. They’re just explosive. They can score in bunches and score pretty quick. We feel pretty confident in the way we can defend. If we can keep them off the glass and keep them out of transition, we might be able to give them a game. I’m excited to play them and see where we’re at.”

Arkansas Tech (25-6) and Minnesota State (29-2) will meet at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 16, at the Taylor Center in Mankato, Minn. Live coverage will be available on KCJC 102.3 FM, and the EAB Media Group app.

Both teams enter the NCAA Tournament on a 10-game winning streak. The Wonder Boys are regular season co-champions and postseason champions of the Great American Conference. The Mavericks are regular season and postseason champions of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Arkansas Tech won the GAC Tournament title last weekend despite below average 3-point shooting. The Wonder Boys were 18-of-66 (27 percent) from beyond the arc in their three wins at FireLake Arena in Shawnee, Okla. For the season, Arkansas Tech is a 39 percent shooting team from 3-point range, a figure that leads the GAC and ranks 12th in all of NCAA Division II.

The Wonder Boys’ perimeter shooting struggles last week were related to GAC player of the year Taelon Peter’s ongoing recovery from a wrist injury suffered in the final game of the regular season on March 2.

Peter, a junior guard from Russellville, is averaging 19 points per game this season. He averaged 6.3 points per game in Shawnee, but it was noteworthy that he did not have his injured right wrist taped during ATU’s 72-57 win over Southern Nazarene University in the GAC Tournament championship game.

Only he knows if it was a show of recovery, a show of toughness or both. Regardless, he bounced back to score 10 points against the Crimson Storm. The Wonder Boys and their head coach hope the progression continues on Saturday in Mankato.

“We need to get Taelon Peter back to being Taelon Peter,” said Downey. “We didn’t shoot it particularly well in the conference tournament. Hopefully if we come up here, shoot the ball better and get Taelon going, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win. We have to be us…guard, rebound, take care of the ball and make shots.”

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.