Photo Courtesy: A-State Athletics
JONESBORO, Ark. (ASU) - The Arkansas State University men's basketball captured its second Sun Belt Conference (SBC) West Division title in the last three seasons with a 58-50 victory over Troy this Saturday (Feb. 23) night at the ASU Convocation Center in Jonesboro, Ark.
The regular-season home finale win allowed ASU to win the SBC West Division crown outright andlock up the second seed in the 2013 SBC Championship Tournament set for March 8-11 in Hot Springs, Ark.
The divisional title is ASU's second under fifth-year head coach John Brady and the program's first since 2010-11. With the victory, which was A-State's fourth in a row and seventh in its last eight games, the Red Wolves improved to 18-9 overall and 12-6 in the SBC West. The 18 wins represents ASU's most since the 1998-99 team produced an 18-12 overall record.
"I congratulate our players for what they've accomplished but our mission isn't over," said ASU head coach John Brady. "We have plenty more basketball to be played so we need to refocus and get ourselves ready for what is ahead.
"We have more things to do and the message to our players is it isn't over," added Brady.
Arkansas State was paced by senior forward Brandon Peterson's 15 points nine rebounds, and four blocked shots in 34 minutes of action. Senior guard Trey Finn was the only other Red Wolves' player to notch double-digit points with 13 in his final home appearance.
Freshman guard Cameron Golden added nine points and sophomore guard Rakeem Dickerson supplied six points. Junior forward Kendrick Washington, Trey Finn, and freshman forward Kelvin Downs all compiled five rebounds apiece for ASU, which was out-rebounded by a 40-36 margin.
The Red Wolves shot 40.4% (19-47) from the floor while going five-of-19 (26.3%) in three-pointers and 15-of-19 (78.9%) in free throws. ASU struggled in the opening 20 minutes, shooting 32% (8-25) but stepped up its efficiency in the second half by connecting on 50% (11-22) of its shots. The Red Wolves limited Troy to 29.2% (19-65) shooting, which included just three-of-20 (15%) from beyond the three-point arc. The Trojans sank nine-of-13 (69.2%) free throws, highlighted by 81.8% (9-11) in the second frame alone.
"Defensively we were solid and took care of the ball," said Brady.
"We did enough to win the game and it was important for us to win the field goal stat which was the difference in the game."
Troy also had two individuals in double-figure scoring, led by Antoine Myers' game-leading 21 points to go with a team-best seven rebounds. Hunter Williams chipped in with 10 points for the Trojans, who fell to 11-18 overall and 6-12 in the SBC's East Division.
Both teams struggled offensively in the first half, combining for 39 points as Arkansas State led 25-14 at the break. Through the first seven minutes, ASU and Troy scored 15 points between them. The Red Wolves held their largest first-half lead of 13 points at 25-12 with just over a minute to go on junior guard Ed Townsel's layup.
Arkansas State was able to maintain its double-figure cushion through the first 16-plus minutes before Troy came back to pull within seven points with 1:34 to go. The Red Wolves scored were able to get their lead back into double digits, including 55-45 with 26 seconds remaining on a Brandon Peterson free throw. The Trojans would cut ASU's lead down to six points at 56-50 with four ticks left on a three-point field goal, but were unsuccessful in getting any closer as Cameron Golden's dunk with two seconds to go put an exclamation mark on the Red Wolves' division-clinching win.
The Red Wolves finish out their regular season next week with a pair of Sun Belt Conference West Division road contests. ASU will go up against the North Texas Mean Green Thursday, Feb. 28, in a 7 p.m. (CT) tilt at UNT's Super Pit in Denton, Texas. The Red Wolves then square off against the UALR Trojans Saturday, March 2, in the regular-season finale at Little Rock, Ark. A 7 p.m. (CT) start time is scheduled for the instate rivals matchup at UALR's Jack Stephens Center.