By Chuck Livingston, Sports Editor, The Evening Times and ASU Mid-South Sports Information
At the conclusion of a back-and-forth, tug-of-war contest against North Arkansas, Arkansas State University Mid-South Public Address Announcer Mark McCleskey had an announcement to make.
"For the first time, your Greyhounds have beaten a nationally-ranked team," said the veteran voice of the team.
Indeed, ASU Mid-South (9-7 overall) scored what is arguably the biggest win in school history, knocking off the Pioneers (15-3 overall) 83-79 at The Dog House on the campus of ASU Mid-South.
North Arkansas was ranked seventh in the country in the latest poll of NJCAA Division 2 teams.
The win wasn't just big on a national level, however. The win against North Arkansas also keeps ASU Mid-South in the hunt to host the NJCAA Region 2 title game on February 27. The Greyhounds must sweep the season series to play the championship contest at The Dog House. The second game in the season series is scheduled for February 13 in Harrison.
"We knew going in that they were an outstanding three-point shooting team. That's how they've averaged over 100 points per game," said ASU Mid-South head coach Chris Parker. "Because of that, we've been really focused on our defense. I've always felt like 80 was sort of our magic number. If we're playing good defense, then we should hold a team to less than 80 and that gives us a chance to win because we think we can score more than 80. So, we felt like it'd be about defense, and we did just enough to get the win."
ASU Mid-South limited North Arkansas to a 12 of 35 showing from the field in the first half while building as much as a 16-point lead in that frame, before settling for a 37-27 lead at the break.
However, the talented Pioneers heated up to 18 of 35 in a second half that featured nine lead changes and three ties.
ASU Mid-South took the lead for good when guard Tyler Armstrong drew a foul on a three-point shot and canned all three charities for a 73-71 advantage. Armstrong would score a game-high 19 points, 13 in the second half.
Free throws would play a key role in the Greyhounds closing out the win. ASU Mid-South would hit their final 13 foul shots of the game.
"We do have the potential to be a good free throw-shooting team," Parker explained. "Earlier this year, we actually hit 20 out of 20 in Hot Springs, which is the school record. In tight games, free throws can make or break you, and tonight, they made us."
The Greyhounds forced 10 Pioneer turnovers while building that big first-half lead, but the tables turned in the second half, as North Arkansas turned ASU Mid-South over 15 times, many of them unforced.
Those turnovers allowed North Arkansas to take a 54-50 lead with 7:51 left in regulation before the hosts rallied.
The Greyhounds now turn their attention to Monday's MLK Day matchup at Rhodes College in Memphis. Tipoff is at 2:00pm.