Southern Arkansas used a fast start Saturday and weathered a Southeastern Oklahoma run for a 73-64 Great American Conference win in Magnolia.
The victory for SAU marks the second win streak of six games for the team this season and adds to the team's best start to a campaign in 29 years.
Southern Arkansas now sits in a tie for the top spot in the league standings with Oklahoma Baptist as both teams own a 7-1 mark in conference play. The two teams will meet for the first time this season on January 24 in Shawnee, OK.
Southern Arkansas (12-2, 7-1 GAC) led throughout the contest in a game that did not feature a lead change or a tie score. The Muleriders found themselves having to weather a second-half surge by the Savage Storm. SAU carried a nine-point lead into the intermission with a 37-28 advantage following a first-half that saw the home team build their largest lead of the afternoon at 16 with 3:48 to play in the first half.
In the second half, Southeastern Oklahoma (9-4, 5-4 GAC) rallied and twice used an inside bucket from Jett Jobe to pull within two with the latest occurrence coming with 5:48 to play in the game.
The Muleriders answered with a basket and foul shot from junior guard Frank Royles and on the next trip down the court freshman guard Jalen Brooks knocked down a 15-footer from the right baseline as the SAU lead quickly grew back to seven at 59-52 with 5:01 remaining.
With 3:12 to play, sophomore trigger man Gabe Gilliam connected on his third trifecta of the game (the lone Mulerider make from deep in six second-half attempts) to push the Mulerider lead back to seven. Following a Southeastern Oklahoma bucket that cut the deficit back to five, sophomore forward Devante Brooks connected on a pair of clutch free throws at the 2:04 mark to once again create a seven-point advantage for SAU.
A successful and-1 opportunity kept the Savage Storm in the contest as they faced just a four-point deficit with 1:49 left. After an SAU missed three-pointer, sophomore big man Charlie Thomas battled inside for the offensive board and promptly swung it out to senior C.J. Elkins on the perimeter who quickly dished the ball inside to D. Brooks which resulted in the latter finishing an impressive sequence with a three-point play after the foul with the bucket with 1:19 to play and the Muleriders leading 67-60.
Three successful trips to the free-throw line that saw sophomore guard Aaron Lucas go 4-for-4 and Elkins make both of his attempts put the game on ice for Southern Arkansas.
Perimeter defense was a key for SAU in the win as they forced the Savage Storm into a 21.9 percent clip (7-of-32) from beyond-the-arc, in addition to only giving their opponent nine attempts from the foul line.
The Muleriders did not attempt a first-half free throw, but took advantage of their trips to the line in the second half as they finished 11-of-14, including the aforementioned 6-for-6 in the game's final 57 seconds. Additionally, SAU shot 50 percent (28-of-56) from the floor overall marking the third game this campaign with a shooting clip of 50 percent or better, while the team's eight turnovers are the lowest for the squad in their eight GAC games this season.
D. Brooks led SAU in scoring and rebounding with 12 and seven, respectively. He added a team-high three assists with one block. Gilliam followed with 11 points, while Lucas chipped in with nine, and Royles, senior big man Wesley Nosakhare and J. Brooks all followed with eight points. Royles and Nosakhare both grabbed five boards, while the latter is now 10-of-10 shooting from the floor over the past two games.
Next up for the Muleriders is in-state rival Arkansas-Monticello (10-4, 6-2 GAC) on Thursday at Monticello. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. It is the first of two scheduled meetings for the GAC foes with the Weevils set to travel to Magnolia for a February 14 matchup.