Wonder Boys Earn Berth in GAC Title Game

Arkansas Tech staged its biggest second-half comeback of the 2011-12 men’s basketball campaign at the biggest moment of the season so far on Saturday afternoon.

The nationally 21st-ranked Wonder Boys stormed back from an 11-point halftime deficit to defeat the Ouachita Baptist Tigers 67-62 in the Great American Conference Tournament semifinals at Bruin Fieldhouse in Bartlesville, Okla.

With the win, top-seeded Arkansas Tech (23-5) advances to face seventh-seeded Southwestern Oklahoma State (17-11) in the GAC Tournament championship game at 1 p.m. Sunday. The game can be heard on KWKK 100.9 FM and www.athletics.atu.edu.

Ouachita Baptist led 34-23 at halftime, but the Wonder Boys hit three 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the second half to cut the Tigers’ lead to two points.

OBU was able to hold onto the lead until the 2:01 mark of the second half. That was when Tech’s Jared Williamson made a 3-pointer from the left wing to tie the score at 58-58.

Williamson stole the ball from the Tigers on their next possession and drove for a layup that put the Wonder Boys in front 60-58 with 1:33 to go. It was Arkansas Tech’s first lead since the 6:50 mark of the first half.

Johnie Davis forced a second consecutive Ouachita Baptist turnover when he made a steal with 1:15 left. He was fouled in transition by Austin Mitchell, who picked up his fifth foul and exited the game with 15 points.

Davis made two free throws to give the Wonder Boys a 62-58 edge. Williamson’s defensive rebound with 1:01 remaining led to two more Davis free throws. Arkansas Tech led 64-58 with 36.1 seconds left.

The Tigers ended a field goal drought of more than two minutes when Eric Braeuer made a 3-pointer with 6.6 seconds left, but it was too little too late. Davis made a free throw with 5.5 seconds remaining to set the final score.

Before Saturday’s 11-point comeback, the Wonder Boys’ largest halftime deficit overcome this season was five points against Christian Brothers on Nov. 29. Arkansas Tech is 5-3 when trailing at halftime this year.

“It was a different kind of halftime,” said Arkansas Tech head coach Doug Karleskint, who is 48-11 in two seasons as the Wonder Boys’ head coach. “We didn’t talk a lot of strategy. We talked about ourselves. In the first half, we looked like we did in early December. We got better ball movement in the second half.

“There were lots of plays of the game today,” continued Karleskint. “We never panicked. We were able to take advantage of our depth. It seems like the second semester we’ve been able to get production from anyone we’ve put in the game.”

Davis finished with a game-high 24 points for Arkansas Tech. Williamson had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Matt Haney notched 10 points.

Nigel Ramsey led OBU in a losing effort with 17 points and 10 rebounds. The Tigers finished their season with an overall record of 16-12.

Sunday’s GAC Tournament championship game will be the third meeting of the season between Arkansas Tech and Southwestern Oklahoma State. The Wonder Boys defeated the Bulldogs 78-72 in Weatherford, Okla., on Jan. 12, and 80-73 in Russellville on Feb. 9.

The Bulldogs made it to the championship game when Chase Elliott hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give SWOSU a 79-76 win over Arkansas-Monticello on Saturday.

“Southwestern Oklahoma State is really good, and it starts at the top,” said Karleskint. “Charlie Schaef is one of the best head coaches in NCAA Division II. He has his guys playing the hardest of anyone in the conference. They are playing with an edge. It will be a battle.”

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