Lions earn first invite to Big Dance

FORT SMITH — UAFS is polishing up its dancing shoes.

After losing to the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in an overtime upset in the first round of the Heartland Conference Tournament, the Lions were a bit concerned whether or not they would earn one of the South Central Region’s five at-large bids to the NCAA Division II National Tournament.

Turns out, the Lions had nothing to worry about.

Twenty-plus wins, a Heartland Conference regular-season championship and a No. 6 regional ranking was more than enough proof for the selection committee that the Lions belonged in the national tournament.

UAFS (21-6) will be the No. 6 seed in this week’s South Central Region Tournament and will play No. 3 seed Midwestern State at a yet-to-be announced time on Saturday in the first round of the eight-team tournament that will be hosted by No. 1 seed and No. 1 nationally-ranked Metro State University in Denver, Colo.

It will be the Lions’ first appearance in the national tournament as a member of NCAA Division II, and it is the first overall national tournament appearance for UAFS since winning the NJCAA National Championship in 2006.

Wonder Boys earn at-large bid to NCAA tourney

RUSSELLVILLE — Arkansas Tech (21-9) will continue its season, by virtue of an at-large selection to the NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship field, announced Sunday by the NCAA.

Arkansas Tech will be the seventh seed in the Central region, and will face second-seed and national No. 15 Central Missouri (24-5) in the opening round, with the game to be played Saturday, March 15 at 2:30 p.m. at the Taylor Center in Mankato, Minn., on the campus of Minnesota State University.

A-State earns No. 4 seed for SBC tourney

JONESBORO — The Arkansas State University men’s basketball team earned the four seed in the upcoming 2014 Sun Belt Conference (SBC) Men’s Basketball Championship, which will be held March 13-16 at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans, La.

The Red Wolves, who have received an opening-round bye, will play the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 5 seed UALR and No. 8 seed Troy this Friday, March 14, at 6 p.m. (CT) in the quarterfinals of the single-elimination conference tournament. A-State’s quarterfinal-round contest against the Trojans (UALR or Troy) will be televised live on the Sun Belt Network.

Arkansas State, under sixth-year head coach John Brady, concluded the regular season at 18-12 overall and posted a fourth-place 10-8 conference record. The Red Wolves will enter conference tournament play having won seven of their last 12 games.

Harding wins GAC tourney

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - Nobody thought it could happen, but it did. Coming off five consecutive losses to end the regular season, the No. 5 seed Harding men’s basketball won three straight games at the Great American Conference Tournament and will be returning to the NCAA Division II tournament for the fifth time and for the second straight season after defeating Henderson State 93-86 on Saturday in double overtime.

Harding, who made a season-high 16 3-pointers in the game, controlled the second overtime period.

Blake McNair, who scored a career-high 25 points, opened the second overtime with his sixth 3-pointer of the game. Weston Jameson, the GAC Tournament MVP, followed that with another 3-pointer on the next possession.

Henderson State’s Kevin Kozan answered that with a 3-pointer to cut the Harding lead to 87-84, but the Bisons got three straight free throws from Johnson and a layup from Will Francis to seal the victory.

McNair, one of three Harding players on the All-Tournament Team, connected on 8-of-10 shots, including 6-of-7 3-pointers. He also had six rebounds, four assists, and three steals.

Jameson scored 21 points and had seven assists. He made 5-of-8 3-pointers. Johnson scored 11 of his 16 points at the free throw line, and Jacob Gibson made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points.

Henderson State had five players with 10 points or more and was led by Melvin Haynes with 17.

Harding had all five starters play 42 minutes or more. Jameson played all 50 and played every second of Harding’s three tournament victories.


Harding falls in GAC Championship

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. — Harding women’s basketball, ranked No. 2 in Division II and No. 1 in the Central Region, lost a tough 78-74 decision to Southwestern Oklahoma on Sunday in the finals of the Great American Conference Tournament at Bruin Fieldhouse.

It was only the second loss of the season for Harding, who will host the NCAA Central Region Championship March 14-17. The Lady Bisons will face Concordia-St. Paul.

Harding (29-2) led 68-55 with 8:39 left but was outscored 23-6 down the stretch.

All five of Harding’s starters scored 10 or more points. Freshman A’ndi Haney led the Lady Bisons with 18 points. Kristen Celsor scored 16 points, and Arielle Saunders, Montana Lewis, and Shana Holmes each had 10 points. Saunders led Harding with 13 rebounds.

Michelle Fisher and Taryn Sayama led Southwestern with 18 points each.

Southwestern Oklahoma (19-10) will receive the automatic berth into the Central Region Tournament by winning the GAC Tournament.

Tech earned an at-large bid after capturing the Great American Conference regular-season title and advancing to the semifinals of the conference tournament before falling to eventual champion Harding. The Wonder Boys will make their sixth consecutive trip to the NCAA tourney, and are joined by eighth-seed Harding as the two GAC representatives to the regional.