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Wonder Boys, Buffs Meet in NCAA 1st Round

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Arkansas Tech wants to play fast and create as many possessions as possible. West Texas A&M wants to control tempo and shorten the game.

The team that gets its way on Saturday is likely to advance to the second round of the NCAA Division II Tournament.

The nationally 15th-ranked Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (24-5) and the West Texas A&M Buffaloes (19-8) will meet in an opening-round game at the NCAA Division II Tournament South Central Regional at D.L. Ligon Coliseum in Wichita Falls, Texas, on Saturday, March 10.

Tip-off is set for noon. Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and will have the broadcast, beginning with the pre-game show at 11:45 a.m.

Arkansas Tech, regular season and postseason champion of the Great American Conference, has won 13 of its last 14 games.

The key to the Wonder Boys' success is turnover margin. Arkansas Tech leads the GAC and ranks sixth in NCAA Division II with an average margin of +5.0 turnovers per game.

Head coach Doug Karleskint said that pressuring the basketball will be critical in forcing West Texas A&M to play at a fast pace.

"We have to get out in the passing lanes and hopefully get into our press," said Karleskint, the 2011-12 GAC coach of the year. "West Texas A&M wants to take the best shot possible, and that's why they lead the Lone Star Conference in field goal percentage this season. They are so patient with the basketball, and on the tapes we've watched everyone has let them be patient with it.

"We can't let them pass the ball around the perimeter and let those guys duck in for good position," continued Karleskint. "We have to be able to take them out of their comfort zone."

The Buffaloes are led by the tandem of point guard Lionel Foster and forward Donald Sims.

Foster, a transfer from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, ranks fifth in NCAA Division II in assists (7.3 per game).

Sims, a transfer from the University of South Carolina at Salkehatchie, leads the Lone Star Conference in offensive rebounds (3.7 per game) and he ranks fifth in the nation in field goal percentage (.638). He was named Lone Star Conference newcomer of the year.

Foster and Sims were both named to the second team All-LSC honor squad.

"Foster is really good in space," said Karleskint. "He's quick with the basketball, gets to the paint, draws contact and gets to the free throw line. We have to get him going sideways instead of north and south. As for Sims, we have to keep him off the boards, which not very many people have done this year. He is relentless."

Arkansas Tech features the talents of GAC player of the year Johnie Davis, who is averaging 20.3 points per game this season.

Davis has scored 1,093 career points in just two years at Arkansas Tech, and he is bidding to become just the fourth Wonder Boy in the last 30 years to average 20 or more points per game in a season.

Other top weapons for Arkansas Tech include GAC Tournament most valuable player Jared Williamson, All-GAC honorable mention selection Will Paul, veteran guard Matt Haney, defensive stopper Mykel Cleveland and 3-point specialist Jeremy Hoard.

Williamson is averaging 12.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game this season. He was 14-of-22 (64 percent) from the field at the GAC Tournament.

Paul had 16 points and nine rebounds in the Wonder Boys' 69-58 win over Southwestern Oklahoma State in the GAC Tournament championship game. He averages 10 points per contest.

Haney ranks among the top 10 players in the GAC this season in 3-point field goals made (2.1 per game) and 3-point field goal percentage (.414).

Cleveland generally guards the opponent's best perimeter scoring threat, and he ranks second in the GAC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7-to-1).

Hoard leads the GAC in 3-point field goal percentage (.480).

Add in reserve guards Kendell Pinkney, Tyler Friedel and Chase White along with the depth provided by frontcourt players Marshawn Arnold, Blake Mitchem, Nick Wayman and Stephen Coles, and the Wonder Boys have found a mix that has allowed them to reach the NCAA Division II Tournament for a fourth consecutive year.

"I haven't told our guys as much as I should, but I was thinking just the other day about how proud I am of this team and the way they have battled through injuries," said Karleskint. "We brought in a lot of new guys to play important roles this year. Our guys have meshed really well.

"We lost a lot of guys off last year's team who knew how to win close games," continued Karleskint. "Early on, I didn't know if this team had that ability. But they have definitely shown they can come back from deficits, and we've been really good on the road. I'm proud of how we came together and how good our basketball team is right now."

Click here to learn more about Arkansas Tech men's basketball.