The Commerce Journal
The Texas A&M University-Commerce men’s basketball team found its shooting groove Wednesday night, putting on a three-point clinic en route to a 96-88 victory over Southern Arkansas at W.T. Watson Gym. The victory gives head coach Sam Walker his 201st career victory, moving him into a tie with Jim Gudger (1969-83) for the most victories in A&M-Commerce program history.
“I was a little nervous to see how we would come out tonight, coming off that tough loss last night (at Ouachita Baptist), but I was incredibly pleased with the attitude of this team,” Walker said. “With a long break coming up, it would be easy for a team to maybe mail it in, especially on the road against a team as talented as Southern Arkansas, but this team came out with that determination and wanted to make a statement from the get-go. This has been an incredible group of guys who have wanted to play hard not for me, but for the guys sitting next to them in the locker room.”
It seemed there were few shots in the gym the Lions couldn’t hit on the night as A&M-Commerce shot 53.7 percent from the floor and 53.6 percent from three-point range, hitting 15 of their 28 attempts from beyond the arc. At one point in the second half, the Lions had hit 65 percent of their three-pointers, which was better than all three of Southern Arkansas’ shooting percentages.
Stefon Carson led the charge with a career-high 26 points on the night, hitting five of his seven three-point shots with four rebounds, five assists and a pair of steals. Preston Whitley came on strong in the second half, hitting five of his six three-pointers, including four in a row, to finish with 22 points on the evening, tying his season-high.
Jason Smith continued his strong play with 14 points and nine rebounds, hitting four of his seven shots from the floor and six of seven free throws. Tyrie Wooten finished with 11 points, hitting three of six from three-point range, with a game-high six assists and three steals. Devondrick Walker added eight points, four rebounds and three steals as well for the Lions.
It was quite a contrast from Tuesday night’s overtime battle against Ouachita Baptist which saw 11 ties and 12 lead changes on the evening. A&M-Commerce opened the contest against the Muleriders with back-to-back threes from Carson, building an early 6-2 lead and never looked back, setting a tone for the evening as well.
Leading 13-10, A&M-Commerce put together a 10-0 run spanning three minutes, building a 23-10 lead midway through the opening half with Whitley and Quince Jackson hitting threes during that run. The Muleriders would pull to within four on a handful of occasions in the closing minutes of the half, the last of which came at 41-37 with 1:52 remaining. But back-to-back threes by Wooten and another by Carson pushed momentum back in the Lions favor as A&M-Commerce took a 52-38 lead into halftime.
That three-point barrage continued into the second half as behind back-to-back-to-back threes from Whitley, A&M-Commerce would extend its advantage to 16 at 71-55 midway through the second half. Southern Arkansas continued to battle, pulling to within seven at 80-73, but the Lions made the key baskets down the stretch, then sealed the win from the free throw line to earn the 96-88 victory.
The 96 points on the night was the highest single-game total of the season for A&M-Commerce, surpassing the 92 points registered at Dallas Baptist Saturday as the Lions continue to lead the Lone Star Conference in points per game. The victory also marked the 10th-straight win over the Muleriders as the A&M-Commerce improves to 22-12 all-time against Southern Arkansas and 13-2 with Walker at the helm.
Walker continues to etch his name among the Lion all-time greats, improving his career record to 201-151, tying Gudger as the all-time winningest coach in A&M-Commerce history. His .571 winning percentage also ranks fourth all-time in program history among coaches with at least 50 career victories.
For the game, Southern Arkansas shot 45 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range (10-of-25) while forcing 25 A&M-Commerce turnovers. Chris Davis led all scorers with 28 points with Daviel Clements finishing with 16 and Nigel Jones adding 15 points and 11 rebounds in defeat for the Muleriders.
A&M-Commerce will now take a hiatus from the court, getting an extended break for the Christmas holiday before resuming Lone Star Conference play against Incarnate Word on Jan. 2, 2013. Fittingly, coach Walker will go for his 202nd career win at the Field House as he looks to become the all-time winningest coach in program history in front of the hometown fans. The game also marks the final visit to the Field House for Incarnate Word before making the move to Division I in 2013. Opening tip against the Cardinals is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with live video and stats available at LionAthletics.com.