Southern Arkansas opens its men’s basketball season in Lancaster, TX for the Great American Conference/Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association Challenge.
SAU tips off at 7 p.m. Friday from Cedar Valley College as the Muleriders meet Rogers State.
The following afternoon, the Muleriders will face Newman at 1 p.m. from Cedar Valley College.
Joining the three squads in the DFW area will be the GAC's Henderson State.
Both the Hillcats and Jets are coming off 20-win campaigns and appearances in the Heartland Conference Tournament -- a now-defunct league which led the programs to join the highly-competitive MIAA in 2019-20.
Henderson State won 19 games a season ago and made a semifinal appearance in the GAC Tournament after knocking off the Muleriders 74-62 in the opening round in Bartlesville.
As for Southern Arkansas, the Muleriders enter this season with high expectations after setting a school record for Division II program wins in a season with 19, while making their eighth-consecutive trip to the GAC Tournament. SAU is the lone team to appear in the postseason every year since the league's inception in 2011.
It marks the fifth-straight year that the Muleriders will open up in Lancaster. In their previous four trips to the Lone Star State, Southern Arkansas is 4-4 with wins over Minot State (2015, 2016), Minnesota State-Moorhead (2017), and UMary (2018); all members of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
Southern Arkansas will look to get off to a quick start to the 2019-20 season after having dropped their previous three season openers.
Coming off their best season as a Division II program, high expectations abound under eighth-year head coach Andy Sharpe. In his previous seven seasons, the Muleriders have tallied a 101-98 record and have appeared in the conference tournament every year. Since the 2014-15 campaign, SAU has averaged just under 16 wins a season, including four years with 15 or more wins. The Muleriders' 14 GAC wins last season are a program record and it marked just the second time that SAU won more than a dozen league games in GAC play.
Junior forward and reigning All-GAC First Team selection DeVante Brooks returns for his third season. Joining him on the court for his second season will be his younger brother Jalen Brooks who was named the league's Freshman of the Year as a rookie.
DeVante Brooks led the team in scoring last season at 11.4 points per game, in rebounding with 7.9 boards per game; the second-most in the GAC in 2018-19, in blocked shots per game at 1.2 and in field goal percentage at 52.2 percent. Jalen's 5.7 rebounds per game ranked 10th in the GAC as did his 0.7 blocked shots per game.
Five returners from last year's historic campaign are juniors. Joining the elder Brooks brother is guard Trey Davis, point guard Aaron Lucas, shooting guard Gabe Gilliam and forward Charlie Thomas. Thomas started 22 games last season for the Muleriders and averaged 13.4 minutes per game. The Vilonia, Arkansas, native shot 59.4 percent from the floor with 4.3 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.
Lucas started five games, but saw action in all 29 and averaged the fourth-most minutes on the team at 22.0 per game. He finished with a 9.2 scoring average on 41.8 percent shooting and he averaged 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Like Lucas, Gilliam saw meaningful time a season ago as he averaged 18.9 minutes in 27 games played. A sharpshooter in every sense of the word, Gilliam is the top returning three-point shooter for the Muleriders this season. Last year, he shot 33.6 percent from deep and scored in double figures eight times. Davis played in 24 games as a sophomore and contributed valuable minutes defensively.
The home opener is slated for 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 13 when SAU welcomes Gulf South Conference member Union. The Bulldogs won 16 games in 2018-19 and suffered an 83-74 home defeat to the Muleriders last November. Southern Arkansas is 23-5 in the past two seasons inside the W.T. Watson Center, which includes a 14-game win streak during that time.
On November 21, the Muleriders open Great American Conference play on the road at Henderson State in a 7:30 p.m. tip-off. It will be the first of four in-state pre-New Year league matchups for Southern Arkansas with their conference home opener taking place two days later on Saturday, November 23 at 3 p.m. against Harding.
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