Harding faces top-seeded team to open tournament

SEARCY — No. 8 seed Harding makes its fifth appearance in the NCAA Division II Tournament after winning the Great American Conference Tournament on Sunday in Bartlesville, Okla., and earning the conference’s first automatic berth.

The Bison takes on No. 1 Minnesota State-Mankato on Saturday at 5 p.m.

Harding is playing in consecutive NCAA Tournaments for the first time in program history. The Bisons’ other NCAA trips came in 2003 (Winter Park, Fla.), 2008 (Lakeland, Fla.), 2011 (Huntsville, Ala.), and 2013 (Mankato, Minn.).

Harding won its first NCAA Tournament game last season with a 75-71 victory over Central Missouri in the Central Region quarterfinals. The Bisons then fell 86-65 to Minnesota State-Mankato in the semifinals.

Harding entered the GAC Tournament as the No. 5 seed but defeated No. 4 seed East Central (77-65), No. 1 seed Arkansas Tech (83-64), and No. 6 Henderson State (93-86, 2OT) to win its first GAC Tournament title.

Harding senior guard Weston Jameson won the GAC Tournament MVP. He averaged 21.7 points and made 14-of-21 3-pointers in the three games. Senior Hayden Johnson and sophomore Blake McNair also earned All-Tournament honors.

A-State’s Van Slyke, Johnson III earn All-Sun Belt team honors

NEW ORLEANS — Arkansas State University’s Kirk Van Slyke and Melvin Johnson III have been named to the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) Men’s Basketball All-Conference Team for the 2013-14 season as voted on by the league coaches and media per an announcement by the conference office on Tuesday.

Van Slyke collected second-team All-SBC honors while Johnson III received third-team recognition. The two seniors are presently in their first seasons at A-State after transferring from Houston and UT San Antonio, respectively.

A forward, Van Slyke is presently averaging a team second-best 14.9 points (447 pts.) and a squad second-most 5.8 rebounds (175 rebs.) per contest as a starter in all 30 games this season. The 6-10 Van Slyke leads the Red Wolves in blocked shots (32), free throws made (100) and minutes played (914) to date this campaign.

Johnson III, who has started in 26 of 30 games played this season, leads A-State in scoring average (15.2 ppg.), points (456), three-point field goals made (83) to go along with a team third-best 4.4 rebounds a game average (132 rebs.).

Arkansas State, which is presently 18-12 overall and finished with a fourth-place 10-8 conference mark this season, earned the four seed in the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Men’s Basketball Championships (March 13-16) and will take on the winner of the UALR-Troy opening-round matchup this Friday (March 14) at 6 p.m. (CT) in New Orleans, La.

Neighbour picks up second team All-Sun Belt honor

LITTLE ROCK – Senior forward Will Neighbour has been named Second Team All-Sun Belt Conference, the league office announced on Tuesday. Neighbour, who has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury, ranks in the top 10 of Sun Belt in scoring, rebounding, steals, blocks and 3-point field goal percentage.

Neighbour was named Second Team All-SBC as a sophomore in 2011-12 before picking up Third Team honors as a junior. With this year’s honor, he becomes the first three-time All-SBC honoree in program history.

A native of Grayshott, England, Neighbour is averaging 16.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks per game on the season while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor, 38.5 percent from 3-point range and 77.1 percent from the foul line. The 6-10 forward opened the season with 19 straight double-figure scoring efforts and has totaled 10 games of 20+ points on the year. He scored 32 points (11-14 FGs, 9-11 FTs) in a win at WKU on Jan. 16 to become the first UALR player to score 30+ in a game since Brandon Freeman in the 2004-05 season.

Neighbour became the 19th member of UALR’s 1,000-point club this season and currently sits at 1,054 points for his career, tying him with Alan Barksdale for 14th place on the program’s all-time list. His 552 career rebounds tie him with Courtney Jackson for 11th on UALR’s all-time list. He is just the sixth player in program history to total 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career.


A-State collects CSM postseason awards

JONESBORO — The Arkansas State women’s basketball team collected another round of postseason honors Tuesday evening as head coach Brian Boyer was named the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, while Aundrea Gamble, Jane Morrill and Jalen O’Bannon were each selected to the website’s all-conference team.

The awards come on the heels of the Sun Belt Conference’s league awards, which also named Boyer as the Coach of the Year. Boyer guided the Red Wolves to a 20-10 overall record, its first 20-win regular season since 1992-93, and outright Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship for the first time in school history. He also became the SBC’s career leader in league wins, surpassing La. Tech’s Leon Barrmore and FIU’s Cindy Russo’s total of 135.

Gamble, who was named as First-Team All-Conference selection, led Arkansas State in scoring on the year at 18.7 points per night, which also ranked second in the SBC. She is also second in the league in assists per game (4.2), third in steals (2.2), sixth in 3-point field goal percentage (.373) and sixth in field goal percentage (.501).

Morrill, a senior from Scott City, Mo., garnered third-team laurels in her final season of competition. She ranks 75th among all active Division I basketball players with 1,498 career points and is 38th in career free throw percentage at 80.2 Her 579 career field goals are also good for 49th best among active players.

O’Bannon, a sophomore from Memphis, Tenn., was a CSM All-SBC Fourth-Team selection after average 10.6 points per game as A-State’s first option off the bench this season. She also had a team-high six double-doubles, including one in three straight road games against Georgia State, South Alabama and Louisiana-Lafayette. She led the Red Wolves in rebounding with 6.9 boards per contest, which ranked eighth-best in the league.

The top-seeded A-State women’s basketball team will open play in the Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament Wednesday against No. 8 Louisiana-Monroe in New Orleans, La., at Lakefront Arena.

UALR’s Gault grabs SBC first-team honors

NEW ORLEANS, La. – Capping off a tremendous season where she averaged more than 15 points per game as one of the most dominating offensive forces in the Sun Belt, UALR junior guard Taylor Gault was named to the Sun Belt Conference’s First Team on Tuesday afternoon.

Joining Gault in receiving accolades was senior guard Taylor Ford, who was placed on the Sun Belt Third Team by the league.

In 2013-14, Gault scored in double figures in 22 of the team’s 28 games. Her 15.1 points per game this year is fourth in the conference while her free-throw percentage of .833 is sixth in the league.

Gault, who also earned Sun Belt First Team distinction during her freshman year, finds herself in the top 10 in school history in multiple categories. She is now fourth all-time at UALR in points scored, and her 15.0 points per game career average is second in program history. She has the third-most field goals in Trojan history, the fifth-most made free throws, eighth-most steals and fourth-most blocks.

Ford, meanwhile, returns to the All-Conference Teams for the second consecutive season after making the league’s Second Team in 2012-13. The senior’s 3.9 assists per game this year ranks third in the conference while her 1.2 assist-to-turnover ratio is fifth in the league.

Ford will likely leave UALR in third place on the all-time assist list while also finishing 10th in field goal attempts, seventh in made free throws, ninth in rebounding and fourth in defensive rebounding. She has played more games than all but four other UALR players and started the sixth-most games in school history.

Gault was also named to the College Sports Madness Sun Belt First Team on Tuesday morning while Ford earned Fourth Team honors from College Sports Madness.

Gault, Ford and the rest of the UALR women’s basketball team are back in action on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament quarterfinals against Troy.