Weevils going through tough stretch

With 12 schools in the Great American Conference now, league basketball schedules had to be more than tweaked. The solution, at least for this season, was the creation of “Rivalry Mondays.”

It also meant all 12 teams would have to endure two stretches of five games in 10 days in the regular season. For the vast majority of GAC colleges, the rivalry games were no-brainers. Such it was Monday with the University of Arkansas at Monticello facing Southern Arkansas University right in the middle of the first of those stretches.

Unfortunately for the Boll Weevils, the Muleriders gave them their second loss in five days, with Ouachita Baptist University looming Thursday and Arkansas Tech University on Saturday.

UAM fought hard but fell to SAU 87-82 in overtime at Steelman Field House Monday. The Weevils started their difficult run last Thursday by dropping a 78-64 decision at Harding University but gained a measure of relief two days later when they opened a three-game home stand with a 79-71 triumph over Henderson State University.

Monday’s loss leaves UAM at 5-10 on the season, 3-6 in GAC action. After Thursday’s 7:30 p.m. tipoff against Ouachita at home and Saturday’s 3 p.m. start at Tech, the Weevils will be halfway through the conference schedule.

Obviously, then, there’s still a lot of basketball to be played but UAM currently sits in an eighth-place tie in the league standings with Southeastern Oklahoma State University (which defeated the Weevils 73-65 back in November 2015) and Northwestern Oklahoma State University (a 76-67 UAM victim, also before Christmas). The No. 8 spot is important because only the top eight teams advance to the postseason tournament, a place to which the Weevils are looking to return after a last-place finish in 2014-15.

“It was disappointing,” second-year head coach Kyle Tolin said of UAM’s loss to Southern Arkansas. “We battled back and put ourselves in position to win the game and just couldn’t get it done. We are at the point in our program where you need to beat a top-level team like that in the league in your own gym.”

The Weevils erased a nine-point deficit with eight minutes remaining in regulation to force overtime Monday, before succumbing to Southern Arkansas came in the extra period. UAM was able to chip away and tied the game with 30 seconds remaining in regulation at 74-all. A missed layup by Richard Benedyth preceded a missed desperation three-point jumper from SAU at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

In the extra five minutes, UAM’s first overtime game of the season, the Weevils opened the scoring with a pair of free throws by Benedyth. SAU took its first lead of overtime at 84-82 with 1 minute, 15 seconds  remaining and the Muleriders closed the overtime period 7-0 run to seal the victory.

UAM traded early baskets with SAU to begin the game and held a one-point lead four minutes into the contest. The Weevils went the next 4:30 without a point, but cool shooting by both teams prevented SAU from taking advantage.

Each team went on separate 6-0 runs to bring the score to 22-15 in favor of the Muleriders with seven minutes left in the first half.  A 12-1 run for SAU extended the UAM deficit to 11 points at 27-16 before Andre Brown hit a deep three to end the run. The Weevils later closed the gap to seven at 31-24 with two minutes remaining in the half. 

UAM continued chipping away in the final two minutes of the opening half, and trimmed the deficit down to four points at the break with SAU up 35-31. After intermission, the teams traded scoring as the Muleriders extended their lead to five points at 42-37 with 16 minutes left in the contest.

A Jamal Peterson three-pointer with 13 minutes remaining gave UAM their first lead since the first minute of the game at 51-50, but the lead was short-lived as SAU regained the lead on its next possession. The Mulerider lead ballooned to nine as part of a 14-4 extended SAU run befoe UAM fought back to tie the contest.   

Peterson led all scorers with 24 on the night, one of three Weevils in double figures. Benedyth scored 21 points and Brown chipped in with 10. Brown also pulled down a game-high 11 rebounds as he recorded his second-straight double-double.

Sandwiched between the disheartening losses was Saturday’s eight-point win over the Reddies. With 7:05 left in the second half, though, things didn’t look so well for the hosts. Henderson’s Kaylon Tappin, who led all scorers with 32 points, netted a three-pointer that gave Henderson a 60-54 advantage.

Following that shot, however, UAM went on a 10-0 tear—thanks to a pair of long-range bombs from Peterson and two buckets in the pain from Brown—to claim a lead it would never relinquish. And the Weevil defense put the screws to Tappin, who went more than seven minutes without another point.   

“I thought we really played well down the stretch,” Tolin said of his team’s effort against the Reddies. “I knew it was going to be a tough game; they’re well-coached, he knows what he’s doing, they guard, they’re tough, they’re physical. But we when got down 60-54, I thought we really played from tht point on. We moved the ball, scored inside, made shots and defended at a high level.”

Yet another trey from Peterson at the 2:07 mark gave UAM its largest lead of the game, 73-61. After Tappin’s fourth make from beyond the arc, the home team outscored the Reddies 25-11. In reality, it was 25-9 because the UAM defense allowed Henderson’s hot scorer to get his 31st and 32nd points on a layup with three second left in the second half. Tappin had been shut down for 7 minutes, 2 seconds.   

“He’d played three games and hadn’t hit a (three-point) shot,” Tolin chuckled about Tappin, “the all of a sudden he jumps up and makes four. We’re telling our guys he was a driver because that’s what we’d seen on film. But he’s a good player. I thought Richard Benedyth did a good job on him late.

“We really played the last seven minutes of the game. Jamal Peterson made big shots for us. Andre Brown and Vicktor Arnick scored inside. Tyler Davis had a big basket.”

Arnick led four Weevils in double figures with 24 points. Peterson followed with 17, Benedyth scored 14 and Brown chipped in with 13 against the Reddies. Brown had a double-double, too, as he grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds.

To begin the the five-games-in-10-days stretch, UAM held the lead throughout the first eight minutes of the first half against the Bisons in Searcy, even by as much as seven points on two different occasions, but just couldn’t hold on. The first seven-point lead followed three-pointers from Davis and Peterson as a 6-0 run to put UAM up 14-7 at the 14:54 mark.

Harding later regained the lead at the 10:51 mark and used a 22-3 run over the span of eight minutes to hold a 13-point advantage with just under five minutes remaining before halftime. The Bisons held a nine-point lead of 41-32 at the break.

UAM began the second half on an 8-0 run to trim the deficit down to one point at the 16-minute mark. The Weevils later forced the third tie score of the game with 11:10 remaining on a three-pointer by Arnick to make it 50-all.

Following a back-and-forth battle over the next two minutes, the Bisons pulled away with a 12 straight points to get back up by double digits with five minutes remaining. Arnick and Benedyth led the Weevils with 12 points each. Brown added 11 points and nine rebounds. Davis finished with 11 points.

“They’re a good team,” Tolin said of Harding. “There’s a reason they’re leading the league. For 32 minutes, though, it was a tie game. We went through about a four-minute period where they scored on seven of nine trips and we didn’t score.”

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