Nationally ninth-ranked Arkansas Tech clinched its second consecutive outright Gulf South Conference West Division men’s basketball championship in heart-stopping fashion with a 72-71 overtime win over the Harding Bisons at Rhodes Field House in Searcy on Thursday.
The Wonder Boys (22-3 overall, 13-0 GSC) got a tip-in from Jared Williamson with 36.3 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 65-65.
Harding (21-4, 11-2) turned the ball over on its final possession of regulation, and Laithe Massey’s desperation heave for Tech from midcourt hit the backboard, glanced off the rim and fell harmlessly to the floor as the buzzer sounded.
The extra period started with leading scorer Johnie Davis fouling out for the Wonder Boys. Kirk Porter made 2-of-2 free throws to put the Bisons in front 67-65, but it would be their final lead of the night.
Arkansas Tech’s Jeremy Dunbar, who made just one of his first 12 shots from the field, found his stroke at just the right moment.
Dunbar hit a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer in a span of less than a minute to give the Wonder Boys a 70-67 edge. Harding made just 1-of-6 free throws over a span of 1:36 to allow Tech to preserve a 70-68 advantage with 42.2 seconds left.
The last of those five misses from the line in crunch time for Harding was rebounded for the Wonder Boys by Willie Sanders (photographed). He was fouled and made 2-of-2 free throws with 41 seconds left to make it 72-68.
The Bisons missed two more free throws, but this time they got the rebound after the second miss. Bradley Spencer took advantage of Harding’s second chance, knocking down a 3-pointer from left of center at the top of the key to cut Tech’s lead to 72-71 with 16.9 seconds left.
The Wonder Boys missed two free throws with 15.3 seconds left. Harding got the rebound and a chance to score a basket that could have tied it for first place in the GSC West with one regular season game remaining.
But those hopes were dashed when a 3-pointer from the right wing was no good and time expired before the Bisons could try a put-back.
Davis had 22 points to lead Arkansas Tech. Massey added 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven steals, six assists and no turnovers in 43 minutes. Dunbar finished with 10 points.
Kevin Brown had 22 points and 11 rebounds for Harding. Stephen Blake netted 20 points and Kirk Porter contributed 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Bisons.
Arkansas Tech has now won 16 consecutive games, and the Wonder Boys are 26-1 in GSC play the last two years.
The Wonder Boys will host Ouachita Baptist in the regular season finale at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 26, at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville.
If Arkansas Tech wins on Saturday, it will mark the first undefeated conference record for Wonder Boys basketball since they went 10-0 in Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference play in 1957-58.
The coliseum ticket office will open at 3 p.m. Saturday. Those with a valid Tech identification card will be admitted free.
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