Isaac Ragland watched his short-handed Arkansas Tech University men’s basketball teammates struggle with exhaustion in the final minutes of a 70-66 loss at Southeastern Oklahoma State University on Thursday night.
He knew it was time to ask for the opportunity to help them.
“Thursday night, after our team meeting and our film session after the game, Isaac sat me down,” said Mark Downey, ATU head men’s basketball coach. “He sat there and, he used a word I won’t repeat, but he said ‘I’m a dog’ basically. He said ‘I promise you I am…I promise you I am. I know I don’t defend really well, but nobody is defending really well late in the game right now because they are tired. I can go out there and give you something.’ I told him okay, and that he was going to get a shot.”
Less than 48 hours later, in just his fourth appearance of the season, Ragland had already scored seven points — four more than he had previously scored all season — when he caught the ball at the top of the key with less than 90 seconds remaining and the Wonder Boys trailing East Central University 79-77.
Ragland went behind his back with a dribble that carried him to the right wing, where he released a fadeaway 3-point attempt for the lead. And I’ll be darned if it didn’t go in.
How did that happen? It was all I could think to say.
The Oklahoma National Guard couldn’t have stopped Arkansas Tech from there. Behind 26 points from Taelon Peter and a school-record 16 assists from Kade Shaffer, the Wonder Boys (15-5 overall, 11-3 Great American Conference) overcame an 18-point second-half deficit to defeat ECU 84-79 and maintain a share of first place in the GAC standings with four weeks remaining in the regular season.
“He is what he said he was,” said Downey, speaking of Ragland, a junior from Valley Springs who sat out the 2022-23 season before returning to the Arkansas Tech roster this season. “Sometimes you just find those things out in the heat of the moment in a game like that. (Ragland) played a lot of summer basketball for Marty Barnes. Marty Barnes makes some tough dudes, and he prepared (Ragland) for today.”
ATU’s men will host Southern Nazarene University (9-10, 6-8) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8, and Oklahoma Baptist University (10-10, 7-7) at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.
“This is a fun group to watch,” said Downey. “They are great kids. We have a lot of local kids. You need to come see this group play.”
The Arkansas Tech Golden Suns (9-9, 6-8) remain inside the cut line to make the GAC Tournament despite an 0-2 trip to Oklahoma last week.
ATU’s women are tied for sixth in the GAC standings with four weeks remaining in the regular season. The top eight teams in the final league standings will advance to the GAC Tournament March 7-10 at FireLake Arena in Shawnee, Okla. The Golden Suns have appeared in each of the 12 GAC Tournaments since the conference began competition in 2011-12.
Three of the Suns’ final eight regular season games will be against teams that are nationally ranked, including a 5:30 p.m. contest versus top-5 Southern Nazarene (20-0, 14-0) at Tucker Coliseum on Thursday, Feb. 8.
“I like the way our team fought, and we had chances,” said Dave Wilbers, ATU head women’s basketball coach, after a 65-62 loss at East Central on Saturday. “Every little detail is so big. Missed free throws, intentional fouls, unforced turnovers…those just kill a team. It isn’t going to get any easier the rest of the way out. We have to execute better at the end of the game.”
Tickets for ATU’s doubleheaders against Southern Nazarene on Thursday night and Oklahoma Baptist on Saturday afternoon are available at www.arkansastechsports.com/tickets.
Live coverage will be provided by KCJC 102.3 FM, www.arkansastechsports.com and the EAB Media Group app.
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.