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Wonder Boys Ready for First Game as No. 1

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Arkansas Tech will make school history on Thursday night by playing as the No. 1-ranked team in NCAA Division II men’s basketball for the first time ever.  The top-ranked Wonder Boys (16-0 overall, 3-0 Gulf South Conference) will take on the Ouachita Baptist Tigers (4-12, 0-3) at 8 p.m. Thursday at Bill Vining Arena in Arkadelphia.
 
Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 will have the broadcast, which will also be streamed over the Internet at www.athletics.atu.edu.
 
Arkansas Tech moved to No. 1 in the country when this week’s National Association of Basketball Coaches NCAA Division II poll was released on Tuesday afternoon.

The Wonder Boys have made it to the top spot on the strength of their best start in 57 years and the fifth-longest winning streak in the 95-year history of Tech men’s basketball.

The string of 16 consecutive wins is the longest for the Wonder Boys since Coach Sam Hindsman led them to 20 straight victories on their way to a berth in the 1955 NAIA Final Four.

“It gets a little busy and hectic, but it’s nice,” said Tech head coach Mark Downey of the attention that comes with being No. 1. “If you know me, you know it’s all Ouachita, Ouachita, Ouachita for me. People keep telling me to enjoy it, relax a little bit and don’t get tense, but I’m always tense. I’m more interested in staying undefeated than staying No. 1. I just want to keep winning conference games.”

The Wonder Boys should be an inspiration to a Ouachita Baptist program that is struggling. Tech was 6-21 overall and 1-13 in league play just three years ago, and the Tigers appear headed toward that kind of season in 2009-10.

Ouachita has seven freshmen on its active roster and two more redshirting this year. It is not so much a rebuilding project as it is a start from scratch project for first-year OBU head coach Mark Price.

It all sounds very familiar to Downey, who faced a very similar task in 2006-07 to the one that Price is facing this season.

“When you watch tape on (OBU), if you didn’t know the score you would think they were ahead,” said Downey. “And a lot of times they have been. They had Delta State down five with one minute left in the game, and they beat West Alabama. This is a good club. They are very young.

“I’m anxious to see what the tempo of the game is,” continued Downey. “We want it to be fast. It shouldn’t be slow. Our guards are seniors and juniors, and their guards are freshmen. We should be able to dictate tempo. If we don’t, I don’t think I’m going to be very happy.”

Arkansas Tech is led in scoring by senior guard Brandon Friedel. He is averaging 16.7 points per game, fifth-best in the GSC.  Friedel leads the conference in 3-point field goals made (3.25 per game) and he ranks third in the GSC in 3-point field goal percentage (.481).

Tech junior point guard Laithe Massey is among the league leaders in his areas of expertise. Massey is fourth in the GSC in assists (4.38 per game) and tied for second in the Gulf South in steals (2.00 per game).

Speaking of steals, Tech junior forward James Causey leads the GSC in that category with 2.13 per contest.

Ouachita Baptist junior forward Scott Day leads the Tigers with a 9.8 points per game average. OBU ranks last in the GSC in scoring offense (63.9 points per game) and field goal percentage (.409).

After their visit to Arkadelphia, the Wonder Boys will return home to host Delta State at 6 p.m. Saturday. Tech and Delta State enter Thursday’s action tied for first place in the GSC West Division.

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