RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. - Willie Kirkland scored a game-high 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, while Jay Murphy came off the bench to score 11 points as the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys (9-6, 6-3 Great American Conference) fought to a 64-54 win over the Southern Arkansas Muleriders (6-9, 2-7 GAC) on Saturday at Tucker Coliseum.
"It seemed like Willie had a lot more than ten rebounds," said Arkansas Tech head coach Doug Karleskint. "With Will Paul out, we needed him and Jared Williamson to step up and they did. And Jay Murphy played well. He played a tough game."
After being bitten by the turnover bug against UAM on Thursday, it seemed that the Wonder Boys would struggle with turnovers once again, as Tech committed 11 first-half turnovers and only led 30-25 at the half despite shooting almost 56 percent from the floor and holding SAU to a 29.0 percent clip.
However, the Wonder Boys committed only four second-half turnovers and took advantage of some clutch defensive plays to seal the victory.
Murphy acted as a second-half sparkplug, collecting nine of his 11 points in the second half, with seven coming from the free-throw line.
Indeed, after trading leads in the opening five minutes, the Wonder Boys claimed the lead for good at the 12:09 mark of the first half on a 3-pointer by Tyler Friedel, and pushed ahead by as many as ten (30-20) in the closing minutes of the opening half, before SAU closed the period on a 5-0 run to pull within five at the break.
Tech led by as many as 14 (43-29) as Charles Mells pushed the Wonder Boys ahead with a layup at the 13:59 mark, but SAU fought back, using a Ricky Allen layup to pull to within five at the 8:48 mark (47-42). However, the Muleriders would get no closer as Tech extended its lead to ten (55-45) at the 55:45 mark on a Kirkland layup, and held SAU at arm's length the remainder of the way.
Tech had a 32-24 advantage on points in the paint, but SAU used its 41-35 advantage on the rebounding glass, including a 19-9 mark on the offensive glass, to hold a 25-13 advantage in points in the paint. The Wonder Boys held a 45.5 to 31.1 percent advantage from the floor, while SAU shot just 16.7 percent on 5-of-30 shooting from 3-point range.
Arkansas Tech will return to action this Thursday, Jan. 24, heading to Harding for a 7:30 p.m. tip against the Bisons at Rhodes Field House.
Paul Smith, Sports Information Director