Tech Tidbits: Wonder Boys Advance to Title Game

Wonder Boys Celebrate 3-9-2024
The Arkansas Tech University bench erupts in celebration in the moments after the Wonder Boys' victory in the 2024 Great American Conference Tournament semifinals.

For the 21st time in its 24 conference basketball tournament appearances at the NCAA Division II level, Arkansas Tech University will compete on championship Sunday.

The Wonder Boys (24-6) advanced to their fifth Great American Conference Tournament championship game with a 54-53 win over Northwestern Oklahoma State University in the semifinals at FireLake Arena in Shawnee, Okla., on Saturday.

The game turned on a play by Tommy Kamarad with ATU trailing 53-50 and 1:13 remaining. He blocked a Chance Love shot, rebounded it and saved the ball in bounds.

From there, it was all Arkansas Tech. Kamarad made two free throws with 58.8 seconds remaining, Cassius Brooks made two free throws with 19.9 seconds left to give the Wonder Boys their first lead of the second half and Northwestern Oklahoma State (17-13) missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Brooks finished with a career-high 26 points. Kamarad had 16 points and 11 rebounds for his second double-double as a Wonder Boy.

“We’ve just got a bunch of winners,” said Mark Downey, ATU head men’s basketball coach. “We lost the guy in the corner, but we got a little bit lucky. They out-coached us, and our guys just found a way to win. We’ve got a knack for guarding at the end of the game. I’m glad these guys are on our team.”

It sets up a 1 p.m. Sunday championship game between Arkansas Tech and Southern Nazarene (16-13). The fourth-seeded Crimson Storm defeated top-seeded Southeastern Oklahoma State 86-72 in Saturday’s other semifinal.

Southern Nazarene defeated ATU’s men 78-77 in Bethany, Okla., and 67-52 in Russellville during the regular season.

Arkansas Tech has won nine consecutive games since that home loss to SNU on Feb. 8. A victory on Sunday would certainly be a perfect 10.

“It’s another toughness game,” said Downey. “We struggled to guard them because their guards are so big and physical. Our guards have to be good defensively. Their point guard is just really good. You can’t let them make shots. If you let them make shots, they’re hard to beat. Coach (B.J.) Foster does an unbelievable job. It will be tough. Our guys will be excited to play. We just have to find a way to win.”

The Crimson Storm was GAC Tournament champion in 2018 and 2019 and runner-up in 2022.

The Wonder Boys were GAC Tournament champions in 2012 and 2015 and runners-up in 2013 and 2023.

Saturday was Downey’s 300th win as a head coach. Sunday will be his 500th game as a head coach. It’s a career that includes Gulf South Conference Tournament championships at Arkansas Tech in 2009 and 2010. With a win on Sunday, he would lead the Wonder Boys to their first NCAA Division II Tournament appearance in seven years. It would mark another step in his restoration of a program that he once guided to a No. 1 national ranking.

“When you start hitting milestones like that, it just means you’ve been doing it a long time and you’re getting old,” said Downey when asked about his 300th win. “It’s all the former players, all the former staff members, the current players and staff…you start hitting milestones like that, that’s about having good players and good people around you.”

Live coverage of Sunday’s championship game will be available at KCJC 102.3 FM, and the EAB Media Group app. Pre-game coverage on KCJC will begin at 12:45 p.m.

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.