By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal
The Texas A&M University-Commerce men’s basketball team built a commanding first half lead, then had to rally back from a late deficit before finally toppling Southern Arkansas 74-67 at the Field House Monday evening. The Lions notch their third-straight win and improve to 5-2 on the year, handing Southern Arkansas (3-1) its first loss of the season.
Devondrick Walker emerged to lead the Lions, finishing with a season-best 20 points, including 13 in the first half, while Preston Whitley added 19 points and nine rebounds, hitting 7-of-9 shots from the floor and 5-of-6 from the line, including a handful down the stretch to help secure the victory.
Tyrie Wooten and Stefon Carson each finished with nine points for A&M-Commerce, with Wooten hitting three of his four three-point attempts, including a pair of crucial ones late to help the Lions claw out of the second half deficit. Carson was a perfect four-of-four from the free throw line, including two in the waning seconds to help secure the win.
Andrew Davis had another solid night for the Lions, finishing with eight points, five rebounds, two steals, an assist and a block. Wooten led A&M-Commerce with five assists while Kenny Brown notched three points, six boards and four helpers off the bench.
Playing its first game in six days, the Lions showed little sign of a post-holiday slump as A&M-Commerce shot 50 percent from the floor in the opening half. Leading 11-10, the Lions strung together a 20-4 run spanning eight minutes, building a commanding 17-point cushion at 31-14 with just over five minutes remaining in the opening half.
A&M-Commerce would keep the Muleriders at bay for the remainder of the half, although a late Southern Arkansas run cut the lead to 10 at 37-27 at intermission, setting the tone for what would be an entertaining second half.
Both the Lions and Muleriders came out firing in the second half as the teams exchanged three-point baskets early as Southern Arkansas whittled the A&M-Commerce lead to just four at 43-39 with 17 minutes remaining. After trailing by nine at 40-31, the Muleriders put together a run of their own, outscoring the Lions 21-9 over a six minute span to take the lead for first time on the evening off a three-pointer, leading 52-49 with 12 minutes to play.
A&M-Commerce would regain a three-point lead of its own at 55-52 off free throws from Carson and Davis, only to see the Muleriders reel off five-straight to go out in front 57-55.
Southern Arkansas maintained its advantage and pulled ahead by as many as five at 64-59 with 4:28 to play. But that seemed to spark the A&M-Commerce offense as back-to-back threes by Wooten tied the game at 67-67, followed by an and-one by Whitley to extend the Lion lead to three at 70-67.
Wooten then helped ice the victory, notching a steal and feeding a pass ahead to Walker who sealed the game with a dunk as A&M-Commerce outscored Southern Arkansas 10-0 over the final 2:41 to notch the dramatic victory over the Muleriders.
With the win, A&M-Commerce extended its winning streak over Southern Arkansas to nine game and improve to 13-2 against the Muleriders under head coach Sam Walker. Walker has never lost to Southern Arkansas at the Field House, improving to 8-0 all-time against the Muleriders as the Lions have now won 13-straight against opponents from the state of Arkansas, dating back to the 2008-09 season.
Walker also continues to inch closer to a pair of coaching milestones, upping his career record to 197-50, needing just three victories to reach his 200th career win and five to surpass Jim Gudger as the all-time winningest coach in A&M-Commerce program history.
Southern Arkansas, who had scored over 100 points and won by an average of 40 points in their first three games, was held to a season-low 67 points, shooting 41.9 percent from the floor and just 33.3 percent from the three-point line. Terrell Shears lead the Muleriders with 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench with Rodney Hill finishing with 11 points and Nigel Jones adding 10 for Southern Arkansas.