Weevils split, top last year’s league win total

In any collegiate athletic endeavor, new coaches have to take baby steps until they get their ideas ingrained in their athletes—and their own recruits ingrained in the program. The University of Arkansas at Monticello Boll Weevils accomplished one of those stages Saturday.

Finishing 2014-15 at 3-17 and in the Great American Conference cellar is not something anybody wanted to endure, much less new coaches Kyle Tolin and Michael Cyprien. With a 72-63 win at Arkansas Tech University, the second-year staff (now at three with the addition of Tolin’s Hall of Fame father, Doug Tolin) led the Weevils to their fourth GAC victory before the halfway point of the conference season.

Unfortunately, that high didn’t last long. In a makeup game postponed from last Thursday because of an anticipated snow storm, Ouachita Baptist University and reigning GAC Player of the Year Tirrell Brown tempered UAM’s enthusiasm with a 66-63 defeat of the Weevils at Steelman Field House.

The split gave UAM a 6-11 overall mark and a 4-7 conference slate. Still, the Weevils are tied for eighth in the league standings; important because the top eight teams after the regular season will advance to the postseason tournament. Two more home games loom just ahead for UAM.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University, also tied for eighth in the GAC at 4-7, visits Monticello Thursday at 7:30 p.m. while East Central University, currently sitting in third place at 8-3, comes calling Saturday at 3 p.m. UAM has dropped  games to each school already (during the Weevils’ season-opening six-game losing streak) and, with UAM’s overtime loss to Southern Arkansas University at home on Jan. 18, Kyle Tolin said the upcoming contests take on an even bigger meaning.    

“You’ve got to take care of business on the home floor,” the head Weevil noted, “and we haven’t done that the last two games.”

Monday, each team had an advantage for more than 19 minutes—there were four ties and four lead changes. UAM’s biggest lead was at 9:31 of the first half, a 17-8 margin after a made three-point shot by senior Richard Benedyth. Ouachita reversed its deficit by halftime and the Tigers raced out to a 13-point lead of their own, 62-49, when Brown netted a jumper at the 3:35 mark.

After that, however, the Weevils went on a 14-3 run to cut the visitors’ second-half dominance to two points. That was as close as UAM would get.

“They’re a good team,” Kyle Tolin said of the Tigers, who are currently tied for first in the GAC at 9-2 with Harding University. “They made plays down the stretch and we didn’t. We battled. I don’t think it was that we didn’t play hard because we did. I thought the kids gave the effort to win.”

Brown, who also earned the GAC Newcomer of the Year award last season after transferring to Ouachita from the University of Central Arkansas, led three Tigers in double figures with a game-high 28 points. UAM’s Andre Brown, charged with shadowing Tirrell Brown most of the night, responded with a double-double, 20 points and 16 rebounds, both season bests.  

“Andre really played well,” Kyle Tolin noted. “He accepted the challenge of guarding their kid who was Player of the Year last year—and probably will be again. We need him to play well.”

Andre Brown’s senior classmates, Benedyth and Jerron Washington, also reached double figures for UAM. Benedyth and Washington scored 12 points apiece.

It was a much brighter story for the Weevils at Tech’s John E. Tucker Coliseum two days earlier. UAM used three-pointers from Benedyth and senior Jamal Peterson on back-to-back possessions early in the first half to take a four-point lead. The Weevils did not trail for the remainder of the half, and held their largest lead of the period following a 7-0 run capped by another long-range shot from Benedyth at the 7:28 mark that gave UAM a 28-18 advantage.

The Wonder Boys later used a 13-4 run to cut their visitors’ lead down to one point with 2:45 remaining before halftime. UAM led 34-33 at the break after out-shooting Tech by 20 percentage points in the first 20 minutes.  

The two squads exchanged 8-0 runs to start the second half. UAM’s run came first, highlighted by a pair of three-pointers from Benedyth—leading to an ATU timeout less than two minutes into the period. Tolin was forced to take a timeout of his own two a minute and a half later when Tech cut its deficit down to one point.

The Weevils got back on top by double digits with just less than seven minutes remaining, using on a 9-0 run over the span of 2:43 to lead by as much as 14 points.

Tech took advantage of missed free throws by UAM down the stretch to climb back to within six points with 1:46 remaining, but no closer than that.

“We played well,” Kyle Tolin said of the Weevils’ trip north. “I thought we defended well. We made plays and moved the ball. I thought we really played together. For us being on the road playing a team that has gone to seven straight NCAA Tournaments, I thought it was huge.”

Benedyth tied his career-high in scoring with 24 points. Peterson followed with 15 points. Andre Brown turned in a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds. Junior Vicktor Arnick also reached double digits in points with 11.

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