The Arkansas Tech University Wonder Boys basketball team secured its first earned berth in the Great American Conference Tournament in five years on Saturday with a 78-64 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma State University.
But if you’ve met Mark Downey, ATU head men’s basketball coach, you understand he has much greater aspirations than qualifying for the conference tournament.
“I hope we’re having this conversation on Sunday (March 5) after we win (the GAC Tournament) to get a real postseason berth,” said Downey.
The Wonder Boys shot 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range in their win over SWOSU. Less than 48 hours earlier, they made a season-high 11 3-pointers and established a new season high in scoring during an 88-79 victory over Northwestern Oklahoma State University.
As a result of those two wins, ATU’s men (14-12 overall, 12-8 GAC) are just one game behind Southern Arkansas University (17-9, 13-7) and Southeastern Oklahoma State University (16-9, 13-7) in the race for the No. 2 seed in the GAC Tournament, which will be played March 2-5 at Firelake Arena in Shawnee, Okla.
“We’re right there now,” said Downey. “We’re one game out of moving up, so we have a big week coming up and a lot of basketball left. If we keep shooting the ball like we know how, I think this team’s going to do a lot of good things.”
The Wonder Boys’ defense against SWOSU on Saturday provided Downey with another reason for optimism. ATU held the Bulldogs to 29 percent shooting from the floor.
“I’m really proud of that defensive effort,” said Downey. “I hope that continues. If we want to be successful in the postseason, that’s what we have to do. We have to continue to put wins together. If we can win two this week, we might find ourselves in a pretty good position.”
ATU’s women (13-11, 11-9) have also secured a spot in the GAC Tournament. The Golden Suns will try to stop a four-game losing streak and build momentum for the postseason this week during the final two games of the regular season.
“We’ve got to find some players who can come in and give us some production offensively and defensively,” said Dave Wilbers, ATU head women’s basketball coach. “Right now, it’s the three (Jalei Oglesby, Kaley Shipman and Alex Hill), but we’ve got to have some other people step up, make plays and guard. We need practice. This team is young. There’s still plenty of time to get better this season and get ready for the GAC Tournament.”
ATU will visit Henderson State University for a 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. doubleheader at the Duke Wells Center in Arkadelphia on Thursday, Feb. 23, before concluding the regular season with home games against Southern Arkansas at 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at Tucker Coliseum. Tickets for the home games are available at www.arkansastechsports.com/tickets.
Live coverage of all four ATU games this week will be available on KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com.
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.