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Wonder Boys Win GAC Tournament Title

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One men's basketball championship trophy during the inaugural season of the Great American Conference was great. Two is even better.

Arkansas Tech University won the GAC Tournament title by defeating the Southwestern Oklahoma State Bulldogs 69-58 at Bruin Fieldhouse in Bartlesville, Okla., on Sunday afternoon.

The GAC postseason trophy will sit side-by-side with the GAC regular season championship trophy in Tucker Coliseum at Russellville. The Wonder Boys won the regular season crown with a 13-3 GAC record.  

"I thought we were able to take Southwestern Oklahoma State out of their offense for much of the game," said Tech head coach Doug Karleskint. "They've been making a living pounding the ball inside, but our guards will able to dig down and use their quick hands to get stops. We did the dirty work and got the loose balls today.

"When we recruited these kids, we told them we expected to play in games like these," continued Karleskint. "We wanted to get this tournament. We felt like we had some unfinished business after last year's (Gulf South Conference Tournament). We wanted to bring this tournament trophy back home to Russellville where it belongs."

It is the third conference tournament championship in the last four years for Arkansas Tech, which won the GSC Tournament in 2009 and 2010. Tech lost the 2011 GSC Tournament championship game 80-61 to Harding University.

The Wonder Boys (24-5) held Southwestern Oklahoma State to 32 percent shooting from the field (16-of-50) on Sunday. The Bulldogs made just 3-of-17 (18 percent) from 3-point range, and they did not make a 3-pointer until the 6:27 mark of the second half.

Arkansas Tech did not allow a made field goal for a span of 10 minutes and 41 seconds late in the first half. Back-to-back Mykel Cleveland 3-pointers gave the Wonder Boys a 20-15 edge with 5:44 left in the opening period and they never surrendered the lead.

Cleveland's treys --- which were just his fifth and six 3-pointers of the season --- were part of a half-closing 19-6 run that put Arkansas Tech in front 29-21 at halftime.

GAC regular season player of the year Johnie Davis did not score a point for the Wonder Boys in the first half. He had the first made field goal of the second half --- a 3-pointer with 18:28 to go --- and went on to hit three 3-pointers in the first 3:43 of the half.

Arkansas Tech led by as many as 18 points, but a 9-2 Southwestern Oklahoma State run cut the Wonder Boys' edge to 62-56 with 1:42 to go. Tech held the Bulldogs without a made field goal the rest of the way and the Wonder Boys made 7-of-8 from the free throw line over the final 1:05 to put their hands on the trophy.

Davis scored 17 second-half points and was named to the All-GAC Tournament team.

The GAC Tournament most valuable player was Tech's Jared Williamson. He had 16 points, eight rebounds and two steals on Sunday.

Will Paul added 16 points and nine rebounds for the Wonder Boys, who improved to 13-1 since Jan. 23. Cleveland finished with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Chase Elliott scored a team-high 17 points for Southwestern Oklahoma State (17-12), which entered the tournament as the No. 7 seed and knocked off second-seeded Henderson State and third-seeded Arkansas-Monticello to reach the championship game.

Arkansas Tech received an at-large bid to the 2012 NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament, which will begin next weekend.

Click here to learn more about the Wonder Boys' berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Click here to learn more about Wonder Boys basketball.