(Photo Courtesy: Daniel Gallegos)
MAGNOLIA, Ark. (SAU) - With less than two seconds left in regulation, Southern Arkansas' Jeffrey Walker slipped behind the Arkansas-Monticello defense and put-back a thunderous dunk to send Thursday night's battle with UAM to overtime. In that extra period, SAU was down by one-point, 97-96, with less than 10 seconds left when freshman guard Reece Dunlap buried the biggest three-pointer of his young career, giving the Muleriders a thrilling 99-97 overtime win over the Boll Weevils.
The pivotal conference game for both teams played out like a championship heavyweight fight with neither team willing to relent. Evidence in that was the fact that there were an incredible 24 lead changes and 15 tie scores throughout the game. Additionally, neither team led by more than six points.
That largest lead for either team was gained by the Boll Weevils (12-6, 5-5 GAC) with less than a minute left in regulation as Kenric McCants made good on a layup to make the score 87-81. A foreshadow of Walker's thunderous put-back dunk came on the Muleriders' next trip down the court as he cleaned the offensive glass and layed one in to get the Muleriders (7-8, 4-6 GAC) within four points, 87-83.
Following that make, SAU head coach Andy Sharpe called a timeout. Shortly after coming out of the timeout, a game-changing technical foul call would go in favor of the Muleriders as the Boll Weevils were whistled for having six players on the court during play. SAU's Chauncy Williams would knock down both technical free throw attempts to make it a two-point game, 87-85.
Despite the technical foul call, UAM retained possession following Williams' two makes from the line, and a quick foul by Aaron Francis sent McCants to line for the Boll Weevils. McCants would make both attempts to push their lead back out to four points, 89-85.
Now with 23 seconds left in regulation, SAU's Tyrell Taylor raced the ball into the front court and drove the lane in an attempt to draw contact. Taylor was successful in that attempt and he also made his layup, sending him to the line for a conventional three-point play. Taylor would make the and-one, cutting the Boll Weevil lead down to a single-point, 89-88.
Another quick foul by the Muleriders sent the Boll Weevils to the line. This time it was Dayton Mickens who would shot for UAM. After missing his first attempt, Mickens made his second attempt to make it a two-point lead, 90-88.
On the Muleriders' ensuing possession Taylor once more raced up the court and made his way into the paint, but this time Taylor was hit with a charge foul, giving the ball back to the Boll Weevils. Now with less than 10 seconds left, the Muleriders fouled once more with the game in the balance.
Going to the line this time for UAM was Sharif Hudson. To that point in the game, Hudson had not taken a free throw shot. Hudson would go on to miss both shots, keeping it a two-point game, 90-88. Walker would come down with the defensive rebound following the miss and he quickly got the ball to Tre'von Wilkerson who pushed it up the court. Wilkerson got to the right corner and put up an attempted game-tying jumper, but it would go long and Walker was there on the backside to clean the glass with an authoritative game-tying flush.
As in regulation, the extra period was a back-and-forth affair with three lead changes and one tie score. SAU would score first in overtime, but the Boll Weevils held a four-point lead with 1:03 left. The Muleriders would answer back and pull to within a point on their next possession as Nemo Sanchez drilled his second three-pointer of the game. The Muleriders would foul quickly after to once more send the Boll Weevils to the line with the game in the balance. As at the end of regulation, both free throw attempts would not fall, leaving the door open for the Muleriders.
Following the second miss, the Muleriders grabbed the defensive rebound and with no timeouts left, pushed up court for the game's final possession. Once in the front court, Wilkerson found Dunlap open at the top of the three-point line and the freshman stepped into his shot and buried the eventual game-winner with less than four seconds left in OT.
The made three-pointer by Dunlap was just his second shot and make of the game as he finished a perfect 2-of-2 from deep.
An underlying storyline in the game was at the free throw line. With 60 total fouls called, the two teams would combine to shoot 92 free throws. The Muleriders, who came into the game as the 10th-best team in the GAC in free throw percentage at 63%, shot an incredible 88% (37-of-42) on Thursday night. Conversely, the Boll Weevils shot 62% (31-of-50) from the line. Seven of their 19 misses from the line came with less than two minutes left in regulation and the duration of overtime.
The Muleriders will look to build off of this thrilling win as they remain at home and take on Ouachita Baptist on Saturday, January 25. Tip-off for the game is scheduled for 4 p.m.