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Wonder Boys Advance to NCAA 2nd Round

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Three-point shooting was a big factor in getting the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys to the NCAA Division II Tournament, and it's a big reason why they are still there.

Nationally 15th-ranked Arkansas Tech made nine first-half 3-pointers and then held on for a 79-68 victory over the West Texas A&M Buffaloes in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament South Central Regional at D.L. Ligon Coliseum in Wichita Falls, Texas, on Saturday afternoon.

The third-seeded Wonder Boys (25-5) will play in the regional semifinal round at 5 p.m. Sunday against nationally ninth-ranked Tarleton State (27-5). The second-seeded Texans defeated Missouri Southern 69-52 in first-round action on Saturday.

The Arkansas Tech-Tarleton State regional semifinal game can be heard on KWKK 100.9 FM and beginning with the pre-game show at 4:45 p.m. 

Jared Williamson and Matt Haney set the tone for the Wonder Boys against West Texas A&M by making back-to-back 3-pointers to start the game.

Arkansas Tech led by as many as nine points early on, but the Buffaloes fought back to within 13-10 with 13:40 left in the first half. That was when Tech's Jeremy Hoard took over.

Hoard made four 3-pointers over a span of eight minutes --- one of which turned into a 4-point play with a free throw --- to fuel a surge that put the Wonder Boys in front 48-27 with 1:15 left in the first half.

Arkansas Tech shot 64 percent (9-of-14) from 3-point range in the first half against a West Texas A&M team that came into the game ranked third in NCAA Division II in scoring defense.

Tech came into the game ranked 14th in NCAA Division II in 3-point field goal percentage (.406) this season.

"Guard play is a strength of ours," said Doug Karleskint, who picked up his 50th win as Wonder Boys head coach. "Jeremy (Hoard) really stepped up for us. He was on fire. We were able to spread them out and pick them apart in the first half. Good guard play wins lots of games in March."

West Texas A&M chipped away at Arkansas Tech's lead throughout the first part of the second half, and Tez Dumars' 3-pointer at the 8:22 mark pulled the Buffaloes within 64-55.

From that point forward, it was a matter of holding on for the Wonder Boys.

The most uncomfortable moment for Arkansas Tech down the stretch came with 1:30 remaining. That was when West Texas A&M's David Henderson made a 12-foot jumper to trim Tech's advantage to 75-68. Those proved to be the Buffaloes' final two points of the game.

Williamson sealed the win with 49 seconds left when he made a steal that led to a Mykel Cleveland layup, setting what proved to be the final score.

"West Texas A&M did a good job in the second half of creating contact and getting to the free throw line," said Karleskint. "We didn't do a good job of staying in front of them. Starting the second half with good defensive intensity has been a weakness for us this year, and it's something we need to get corrected. We were lucky to hang on."

Will Paul led the Wonder Boys with 16 points. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Hoard and Haney added 13 points apiece.

Johnie Davis, Cleveland and Williamson all contributed 11 points. Cleveland grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds.

Williamson notched seven rebounds, he matched his career high with seven assists and he made four steals against only one turnover. As a team, Arkansas Tech had 18 assists and nine turnovers.

"We had good energy today," said Williamson. "It was a challenge because it was an early tip (noon). I could tell it was going to be a good day because of the way we had prepared ourselves."

Donald Sims had 23 points and 10 rebounds for West Texas A&M, which finished its season with an overall record of 19-9.