Clutch free throw shooting in the final minute allowed Arkansas Tech University to move past Southern Arkansas University 72-68 in men's first-round play at the Great American Conference Tournament at Bruin Fieldhouse in Bartlesville, Okla., on Friday night.
Montrell Williams made 2-of-2 free throws with 31 seconds left to give the Wonder Boys a 70-68 lead. After SAU's Tony Aska missed two free tosses with 9.9 seconds to go, Trevin Woods rebounded the second miss for Arkansas Tech and was fouled with 8.4 seconds left.
Woods drained both free throws to set the final score as the Wonder Boys (21-6) improved to 3-0 this season against the Muleriders (13-16).
With the win, Arkansas Tech advances to face the University of Arkansas-Monticello in the GAC Tournament semifinals at 8 p.m. on Saturday, March 4. Radio station KCJC 102.3 FM and www.arkansastechsports.com will have live coverage.
SAU led 34-32 at halftime behind a 3-2 zone defense that limited the Wonder Boys, the fourth-most prolific 3-point shooting team in NCAA Division II this season, to 4-of-20 shooting from beyond the arc in the first half.
Arkansas Tech began attacking that zone from the corners early in the second half and made six of its first 11 3-point tries to begin the period. As a result, the Wonder Boys built a 56-40 lead at the 13:52 mark following back-to-back treys by Mason Cline.
"I thought we got some good looks in the first half," said Tech head coach Chad Kline. "We missed some shots we're used to making. What I'm most proud of is that when we weren't making shots in the first half, our defense kept us in it. When you get into tournament play, you just want to get through that first day."
Southern Arkansas chipped away and tied the score at 68-68 on three Keeton Tennison free throws with 55.9 seconds remaining. Those proved to be the Muleriders' final points of the night.
Arkansas Tech out-rebounded SAU 50-38. The Wonder Boys collected 20 offensive rebounds and finished with a 20-9 edge in second-chance points.
Alex Brown paced Tech with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Justin Graham notched 15 points, while Williams had 10 points and 10 rebounds and Woods finished with 10 points.
D'Sean Dockery had 22 points for Southern Arkansas, which saw its season come to an end.