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Wonder Boys Look to Add to Historic Era

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Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House the last time the Arkansas Tech men’s basketball program enjoyed the kind of sustained success that it has experienced over the past three seasons. Two Gulf South Conference Tournament championships, two GSC West Division regular season titles, 77 victories and three consecutive NCAA Division II Tournament berths since the beginning of the 2008-09 season have returned the Wonder Boys to national prominence. The only item missing from the resume is a run deep into March. This weekend, Arkansas Tech gets a chance to add that to its list of accomplishments. The nationally 14th-ranked Wonder Boys (24-5) will face the nationally 24th-ranked Benedict College Tigers (21-7) at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, in the first round of the NCAA Division II Tournament South Regional at Spragins Hall in Huntsville, Ala. Radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will broadcast the game in the Arkansas River Valley.

Click here to access an Internet stream of the broadcast.

Arkansas Tech’s current streak of three consecutive NCAA Tournament berths is its longest string of men’s basketball national tournament berths since Sam Hindsman led the Wonder Boys to seven straight NAIA National Tournaments from 1950-56. Tech’s venture into March Madness ended in sadness the last two seasons. First was a 95-92 overtime loss at Florida Southern in the 2009 NCAA South Regional semifinals. One year later, the Wonder Boys were bounced from the regional semifinals on their home floor 72-60 by a hot-shooting group of Valdosta State Blazers. In order to have an opportunity for its first-ever NCAA regional final berth, Arkansas Tech must first get by one of the top defensive teams in the nation. Benedict College, regular season champion of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, ranks 13th in NCAA Division II in field goal percentage defense (.392). The Tigers lead the nation in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.270). Part of the reason for Benedict’s defensive prowess is 6-foot-10, 255-pound center Marcus Goode. He ranks third in the nation in both rebounding (11.5 per game) and blocked shots (3.7 per game). “(Benedict) plays a containment style of defense and it is easy to settle for a lot of long shots,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Doug Karleskint. “I think a lot of teams don’t like to drive right at Marcus Goode. He gobbles up so many rebounds with his size and athleticism. It is a huge advantage for them. He is by far the best true big man we’ll see all season long.” The Wonder Boys won 16 consecutive games from Dec. 17 through Feb. 24, but they are just 2-2 in their last four games.

Tech dropped its regular season finale to Ouachita Baptist, bounced back with wins over North Alabama and Valdosta State in the first two rounds of the GSC Tournament and then suffered an 80-61 loss to Harding in the GSC final. “In our loss to Harding, for the last 30 minutes or so it wasn’t a matter of effort; we just needed to execute better,” said Karleskint. “We need to play as a team, fight through adversity and stick together as a team. I think we’ve improved in the areas of playing hard and sticking together as a team. Hopefully we’re going into Huntsville and the regional with a pretty good mindset.” Junior guard Johnie Davis (16.3 points per game) and senior forwards Jeremy Dunbar (14.5 points per game) and James Causey (10.0 points per game) are Arkansas Tech’s top three scorers. Causey ranks fourth in NCAA Division II in steals (2.9 per game). Senior point guard Laithe Massey adds 9.6 points per game, and he ranks among the NCAA Division II leaders in steals (6th, 2.8 per game), assists (24th, 5.4 per game) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3rd, 3.49-to-1). The winner of the Arkansas Tech-Benedict game will face either regional host Alabama-Huntsville or Clark Atlanta University in the regional semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 13. The men’s NCAA Division II South Region championship game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 15.

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