Tech Tidbits: Semifinal Saturday Next for Wonder Boys

Sean Cobb 3-7-2024
Arkansas Tech's Sean Cobb blocks a shot by Harding's Abou Gbane during the Wonder Boys' 67-65 win in the first round of the Great American Conference Tournament on Thursday.

There’s something about that moment when the shot that could end your season is in the air.

The Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys stared into that abyss on Thursday afternoon and lived to tell the tale. Now, they are one win away from a return trip to the Great American Conference Tournament championship game.

The Wonder Boys (23-6) held off the Harding Bisons 67-65 in the opening round. Harding’s Keyln McBride hoisted a 3-pointer from the top of the key as time expired that could have sent the ATU men home to Russellville, but it was off target.

“I’m not sure we deserved to win that game, but we figured out a way and I’m proud of that,” said Mark Downey, ATU head men’s basketball coach and 2023-24 GAC coach of the year. “I knew we were going to have to survive today.”

The reason Downey knew that is the health of the Wonder Boys’ leading scorer and the GAC player of the year, Taelon Peter. He injured his shooting wrist in the final game of the regular season and tweaked his ankle in pre-game warm-up on Thursday. Peter, who is averaging 19.8 points per game this season, scored five points on 1-of-5 shooting from the floor on Thursday.

“He’s banged up a little bit,” said Downey. “He told me, right after the game walking off the court, ‘don’t go away from me anymore because on Saturday I’ll be ready.’ Hopefully we’ll have the Taelon Peter back we’ve seen all year on Saturday. When you don’t have the best player in the league…he might have been 50 percent…that makes it tough.”

Arkansas Tech overcame that obstacle behind its defense. The Wonder Boys, who are No. 1 in the GAC in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense this season, held Harding to 35 percent shooting from the floor.

Next up for Arkansas Tech’s men will be a GAC Tournament semifinal game against Northwestern Oklahoma State University (17-12). Tip-off is set for 2:15 p.m. Saturday on KCJC 102.3 FM, and the EAB Media Group app. All GAC Tournament games are being played at FireLake Arena in Shawnee, Okla.

The Wonder Boys and the Rangers split their regular season series. Northwestern Oklahoma State defeated Arkansas Tech 63-54 in Russellville on Jan. 18, and the Wonder Boys returned the favor with a 70-63 victory at Alva, Okla., on Feb. 24.

The men’s GAC Tournament championship game will be played at 1 p.m. Sunday. The champion will advance to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

Arkansas Tech was one win away from the GAC Tournament title in 2023. ATU’s men stood in the corridor of FireLake Arena and watched Southern Arkansas cut down the nets 12 months ago. The Wonder Boys have been on a mission ever since to be the team that raises the GAC Tournament trophy in 2024. They need two more wins to get it done.

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.