Nationally top-ranked Arkansas Tech has emerged victorious from some of the toughest road environments in NCAA Division II basketball this season.
Tired and short-handed, the Wonder Boys went to Alabama-Huntsville and won. They muted the vaunted “Rhodes Rowdies” by beating Harding in Searcy. Their hearts skipped a beat before escaping with a win over Southern Arkansas in Magnolia.
The Wonder Boys even quieted a Delta State crowd riled up by thoughts of payback.
Now, one final regular season road test awaits Arkansas Tech’s men.
The Gulf South Conference West Division champion Wonder Boys (25-0 overall, 12-0 GSC) will visit the Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils on Thursday night.
Tip-off at Steelman Field House is set for 7:30 p.m. Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM and www.athletics.atu.edu will have live play-by-play coverage.
Tech, the only undefeated men’s basketball team among all 1,023 NCAA members, set a school record for best start to a season on Saturday. The Wonder Boys’ 76-66 win at Delta State also clinched the GSC West title outright.
With the win, Tech improved to 10-0 in road games this season.
“This is a resilient group,” said Wonder Boys head coach Mark Downey of his team. “They kind of play with an edge. I always try to find something to get them excited about playing and maybe make them mad a little bit. Our guys find that thing that gets to them, find that edge and play with it. Somebody out of a group of five or six guys has always stepped up and hit the big shot when we needed it. Hopefully we’ll keep that going.”
A win on Thursday would allow the Wonder Boys to match the longest winning streak in the 95-year history of their program.
The current Arkansas Tech men’s basketball record of 26 consecutive wins was set by the 1953-54 Wonder Boys, who started their streak on Dec. 12, 1953, and did not lose again until St. Benedict beat Tech 63-59 in the 1954 NAIA National Tournament semifinals.
Arkansas-Monticello nearly stopped the Wonder Boys’ current winning streak in the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Boll Weevils missed two 3-pointers in the final seven seconds and Tech held on for a 67-65 win at Tucker Coliseum on Feb. 6.
UAM (12-10, 7-5) is one of three teams fighting for the final two berths from the GSC West Division in the GSC Tournament, which will be played March 4-7 in Southaven, Miss.
Tech and Delta State have already earned two of the four berths from the GSC West in that event.
The Boll Weevils are currently in third place in the GSC West, but Christian Brothers (16-9, 6-6) and Harding (14-11, 6-6) are right on their heels.
In other words, Arkansas-Monticello has plenty to play for on Thursday night.
“I think (UAM) will be ready to play,” said Downey. “I think they thought they should have won the first game. Coach (Mike) Newell has talked about playing the No. 1 team and playing an undefeated team quite a bit. Guys generally play a little bit better when they are desperate, and I’m sure that Coach Newell will have them ready.”
As for motivation for the Wonder Boys, they have already achieved many of their short-term goals. The GSC West Division title is in the bag, as is a No. 1 seed in the GSC Tournament.
Motivation for Tech on Thursday comes down to the two Hs: history and hosting. That’s history as in trying to keep their undefeated season going, and hosting in terms of staying in position to host the NCAA Division II Tournament South Regional March 13-16.
Downey said that history is also a motivating factor because of the Wonder Boys’ recent lack of success in Monticello. Tech is 0-3 at Steelman Field House under Downey’s watch, including a 56-53 loss in 2009 and a 56-55 setback in 2008.
Arkansas Tech has not won a men’s basketball game in Monticello since Jan. 31, 2005.
“Our guys know that the last couple of years we’ve gone down there we probably should have won,” said Downey. “We just didn’t finish those games. I think that is the history that our guys are recognizing right now.
“We want to be playing well going into (the GSC Tournament) next week,” continued Downey. “It’s almost to that win or go home time of year. We want to go to Monticello and play better than we have in the past.”]]>