RUSSELLVILLE, ARK — The first thing you notice about the Arkansas Tech is the size.
There’s 7-footer Charles Mells and 6-10 Will Paul. A couple more guys are 6-8.
“We are big and long,” Arkansas Tech coach Doug Karleskint said. “We’re not real physical, not as physical as we should be.”
Arkansas Tech (18-11), the No. 8 seed, takes on Minnesota State at 5 p.m. today in the Central Region men’s basketball quarterfinals at Bresnan Arena. The Wonder Boys, making their fifth straight trip to the NCAA tournament and 4-0 in first-round games, got into the tournament despite losing in the Great American Conference championship game Sunday.
“From 6:30 to 9:30 (Sunday night’s selection announcement), I was looking at my watch about every two minutes,” Karleskint said. “We thought we had a chance to make it, but we’ve never been on the bubble before. We found out while we were driving back (from the championship game) so we celebrated.”
Despite a size advantage, Arkansas Tech only outrebounds opponents by three per game, and the team shooting percentage is just 40.9 percent. But opponents average only 60.4 points and shoot 38.7 percent from the field against a 2-3 zone.
“We’re an athletic team, and we play hard,” senior guard Jared Williamson said. “We take pride in our defense. We have a lot of size down low so I think we match up pretty well. It should be a fun game.”
Senior guard Willie Kirkland, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, averages 13.4 points and 6.0 rebounds and was voted the GAC newcomer of the year. Williamson averages 12.3 points and 4.3 rebounds. He made 105 free throws, more than 25 percent of the team total.
“We expect a big weekend from Jared,” Karleskint said. “He’s the glue of our program.”
Paul, a 6-10 forward who started his career at Stanford, missed 12 games with a foot injury and returned for the conference tournament. He averages 10.7 points and 4.9 rebounds and shoots 42.4 percent from 3-point range. Mells had 64 blocks and was named GAC defensive player of the year.
“With (Minnesota State’s) size, you have to keep them off the offensive glass,” Williamson said. “And we need to get back in transition. We have to be able to stay together, not get too high or too low.
“We need to pay attention to detail, and you can’t take any plays off. Every game from now on can be your last.”