Nationally fifth-ranked Arkansas Tech wants to keep its momentum going. Southern Arkansas is looking for a fresh start.
That is the backdrop for the 157th basketball contest between the Wonder Boys (13-0) and the Muleriders (5-8), which is set for 6 p.m. Saturday at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville. It will be the first Gulf South Conference game of the season for both teams.
Tickets will be available at the gate. Admission will be free for those with a valid Tech identification card.
Arkansas Tech is riding high with its best start to a season in 57 years. The Wonder Boys’ 13-game winning streak matches the seventh-longest in the 95-year history of Tech men’s basketball.
Southern Arkansas also got off to a good start by winning five of its first seven games, but the Muleriders have slumped with six consecutive losses. Three of those six straight setbacks have been by six points or less.
Saturday figures to be a tough spot for Southern Arkansas to reverse its fortunes. The Muleriders will bring the lowest-scoring offensive attack in the GSC (64 points per game) to Russellville to face the stingiest defense in the conference. Arkansas Tech allows just 57.2 points per game.
But Southern Arkansas will be dangerous on Saturday for the same reason it has been ever since Arkansas Tech alumnus Eric Bozeman became the Muleriders’ head coach in 2005 --- defense.
Southern Arkansas ranks fifth in the GSC in scoring defense (63.8 points allowed per game) and will almost certainly look to slow the pace against a Wonder Boys team that is first in the GSC West in scoring (83.6 points per game).
“We want to play our style,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Mark Downey. “We want to push the tempo and apply pressure on both ends of the floor. Some people have been successful at dictating that slower tempo, and we’ve done okay with it. We’ll see it again against Southern Arkansas, but they also have some athletes who can break out of that motion offense and score the ball.”
Arkansas Tech is the defending GSC Tournament champion and the Wonder Boys went to the NCAA Division II Tournament for the first time ever last season.
Tech’s men’s basketball tradition also includes 16 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference titles, 10 NAIA district and region titles and three trips to the semifinal round of the NAIA National Tournament.
But one accomplishment that is missing from the Tech men’s basketball program is that of GSC West Division regular season champion.
Arkansas Tech’s best-ever men’s basketball finish in the GSC West since joining the conference in 1995-96 is third, which they have accomplished four times (1995-96, 1996-97, 1999-2000 and 2008-09).
A preseason poll of league head coaches picked the Wonder Boys to finish second in the GSC West this season.
“Everything is for something now,” said Downey. “Every game from here on out is to try to win a championship and get into the NCAA Tournament. We talked with our team on Thursday that there are three seasons. We’ve gone through one season, and that’s great, but it doesn’t really mean anything. This is our second season now. It’s conference play, and it’s always been our goal to win the GSC West. It’s a tall order, but it’s number one on our minds right now.”
Saturday’s game will be broadcast by Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM. The broadcast will be streamed over the Internet at www.athletics.atu.edu.