SouthArk to face Shorter College in tourney

The 2023-24 season has been the most successful one to date for South Arkansas College’s men’s basketball team, but there are several goals that the Stars can still achieve.

On Wednesday night, SouthArk opens play in the NJCAA Division II Region II Tournament, which is being held at Rhodes Fieldhouse on the campus of Harding University.

The Stars (19-6) are the No. 2 seed for the tournament after posting an 8-4 record in league play. SouthArk faces Shorter College (6-18), the No. 7 seed who went winless in conference play in their first season in Region II.

Game time is set for 7 p.m.

The winner advances to the semifinals on Friday against the winner between No. 3 seed SAU Tech and No. 6 seed North Arkansas College.

The conference games between SouthArk and Shorter were played nine days apart earlier this month with the Stars winning by scores of 110-55 and 98-60.

Braedon Edison had SouthArk’s first triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in the first encounter between the schools.

Troy’reon Ramos had a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, while Jamarian Cato had a double-double of his own with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Stars placed six players in double figures with Damian Garcia scoring 22 points to lead the way.

In the second game, Edison had a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds, as five players scored in double figures.

As a team, SouthArk shot 49% from the floor in the two games.

Char’Quez Owens was in double figures in both games with 15 and 12 points respectively for the Bulldogs.

Wayne Collins and LaCurtis Dunn share the scoring lead at 11.8 points per game, while Jeremy Dixon is averaging 10.3 points per game for Shorter.

Marial Malek is the team’s leading rebounder at 7.8 per game. He averages 9.7 points per game.

“They play hard and I respect them,” SouthArk men’s basketball coach Cam Robinson said of the Bulldogs. “New season, so you never know what they’re going to bring to the table. They gave us trouble early on in both games, but we just did what we needed to do to finish it out.”

Since falling to top-ranked National Park College 68-66, the Stars won six straight, but their winning streak came to an end on Thursday with an 89-74 loss at ASU Mid-South.

Edison had 28 points and 12 rebounds for the Stars, who shot 48% from the floor, but went just 3-of-11 on 3-point shots and 13-of-21 from the free-throw line.

“We’re good. We needed that,” Robinson said. “A little humbling, a little reminder that we can be beat. We got to keep doing what we need to be doing. I talked with the team and I feel like we’re in a good headspace. We understood that we have got to bring it the whole time. 

“Having a lead in the first 10 minutes doesn’t mean that the game is over with, so we’ve still got confidence that we can make some noise in the tournament. It’s just about doing it now.”

And while SouthArk certainly has hopes of making a run in the tournament, the potential achievements of picking up the school’s first postseason win and reaching the 20-win plateau are also important.

“That’s a big deal,” Robinson said. “I have personally thought about the 20-win mark. It’s a big milestone and it’s tough to do. As far as program-wise, being able to get a conference tournament win is a big deal. It’s never been done basketball-wise, so we would love to make that happen. We just have to take care of business.”

SouthArk’s win over Arkansas State-Newport on Jan. 11 started a torrid stretch that saw the Stars go 10-2 with their two losses coming by a combined three points, and Robinson said there was one reason for SouthArk’s success.

“Coming together as a whole,” Robinson said. “This has been going on for a while because everybody is understanding what they need to do for us to be successful, understanding their roles a little bit more. They’re not trying to do too much. They understand the belief that we really can be a very good team. Early on, there wasn’t too much belief. 

“Then we got a couple of key wins. I think Holmes was the first one that showed we’re a good team. We’re more than a good team, we can be a very dangerous team. Holmes is the one that showed, OK, we’ve got the potential to do something real big. The guys really locked in and bought into it. When it came to roles, there was no role for let me take a risk and try to get mine because they saw that we had a chance to do something big.”

As far as keys to success for the tournament are concerned, Robinson said there was one.

“Keep it simple,” Robinson said. “Don’t try to do too much, do what we do, do what we’ve been doing that had us on the winning streak. Defense, playing together and being who we are. When it comes to the playoffs, the standard is your level of play has to rise. 

“That’s absolutely true. But when people hear that, especially young people, they automatically assume that means I have to do more, dribble more, take more shots, but no, the effort, energy and care has to be a whole lot higher because this could be it. I’ve preached that to my guys over the last couple of days that this could be it. 

“As good of a team that we are, all it takes is a couple of shots not to fall and the other team gets hot, your season could be over with. If we just keep it simple and do what it is that we do and do it at a high level, we’ll put ourselves in a position to be successful.” 

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