Wonder Boys Return to "Tucker Coliseum East"

For two years running, the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys have made the DeSoto Civic Center in Southaven, Miss., their home away from home.

The Wonder Boys, winners of six consecutive games in Southaven, will go for their third straight Gulf South Conference Tournament championship this weekend when they take part in the event for the fifth and final time.

Nationally 13th-ranked Arkansas Tech (22-4) faces the North Alabama Lions (13-15) in an opening-round game at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 4. Russellville radio station KWKK 100.9 FM will have the play-by-play description.

Click here to access an Internet stream of the broadcast.

Arkansas Tech had only won one GSC Men’s Basketball Tournament game in school history when it arrived at the DeSoto Civic Center for the 2009 event.

Three days later, the Wonder Boys were champions of the GSC after a 79-66 win over Valdosta State.

Arkansas Tech made it two consecutive GSC Tournament championships with a heart-stopping 64-63 victory over Alabama-Huntsville in 2010.

The journey for three in a row begins with a familiar opponent.

The Wonder Boys defeated North Alabama 75-57 earlier this season in a non-conference game at Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Dec. 17, 2010. Tech shot 65 percent from the field in the second half and got 22 points from senior forward Jeremy Dunbar in the win.

It was the beginning of a 16-game winning streak that carried the Wonder Boys to a second consecutive GSC West Division championship and a No. 1 seed in this week’s postseason tournament.

That winning streak came to an end on Saturday with an 92-88 loss to Ouachita Baptist in the regular season finale. The Tigers shot 60 percent from the field as they denied Arkansas Tech’s bid for an unbeaten conference record.

“We’ve got to get back to giving maximum effort,” said Wonder Boys’ first-year head coach Doug Karleskint. “I thought Saturday night’s effort was bad. There was no reason we came out and had the lack of focus that we did. Our defensive effort was unacceptable. Effort and creating extra possessions are what got us to this point.”

Despite the loss, Arkansas Tech climbed from No. 6 to No. 2 in the NCAA Division II South Region rankings, which are used to determine at-large invitations to the NCAA Division II Tournament.

Eight teams — the champions of the GSC, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and Sunshine State Conference along with five at-large teams — will receive bids to the NCAA Division II South Regional March 12-15 at an on-campus location to be announced on Sunday, March 6.

The news concerning the regional rankings came out on Wednesday and gave the Wonder Boys a shot in the arm.

“When I told the guys it gave them a little boost,” said Karleskint. “We know that anything can happen. Teams No. 2 through No. 10 in our region are separated by fractions of points, so if we don’t play well this weekend we could very easily be out of the NCAA Tournament.”

North Alabama won four of its last six games to make it to the GSC Tournament.

The Lions are led by Ricky Davison, a 6-foot-2 senior transfer from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He averages 16.5 points per game, fifth-most in the GSC.

The Wonder Boys held Davison to three points on 1-of-7 shooting from the field and forced him into five turnovers in the regular season meeting between the two teams.

Arkansas Tech is led in scoring by junior guard Johnie Davis (16.3 points per game), Dunbar (14.2 points per game), senior forward James Causey (10.3 points per game), senior guard Laithe Massey (9.1 points per game) and sophomore guard Jared Williamson (8.9 points per game).

The winner of the Tech-UNA game will advance to the GSC Tournament semifinals at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 5. The other contestant in that semifinal will be the winner between Delta State and Valdosta State.

The men’s GSC Tournament championship game is scheduled for Sunday, March 6, at 4 p.m.

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