SEARCY -- At times it wasn't pretty and at other times it was downright ugly, but when it mattered most Southern Arkansas responded Saturday to move toe 8-2 in Great American Conference play.
The Muleriders rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit and engineered a big second half on both ends of the floor to top Harding 82-75. SAU improves to 12-4 overall following its 10th consecutive win over Harding and fifth straight in Searcy.
Harding's lead grew to 17 points in the first 70 seconds of the second half, but momentum would begin to shift after senior Kris Wyche hit the first of three second-half trifectas at the 17:39 mark to jumpstart a 21-7 SAU run that ended with the Muleriders gaining a 53-52 lead following another triple try by Wyche.
SAU shot it much better from three-point range in the second half sinking seven of its 13 attempts; five more in the same amount of first half attempts. Additionally, SAU's perimeter defense clamped down to hold Harding to just one make in nine second-half attempts from deep.
The Bisons would regain the lead momentarily, but a three-point make from Gregory Hammond Jr. put the Muleriders up 56-54 and Harding would not lead again.
Brock Schreiner connected on the second of two free throws to give the Muleriders the lead for good at 57-56 and the senior guard would follow with an old fashioned three-point play before assisting on a Carel Ray Jr. triple try as SAU moved up 63-58
Harding closed the deficit to three at 65-62 with 4:29 remaining, but SAU put together a 10-4 run over the next 2:15 of play to lead by nine. A pair of free throws from Jerry Carraway Jr., a freebie by Hammond Jr., Wyche's third and final triple try and an athletic drive to the basket on an up-and-under by Schreiner staked SAU to an advantage it would hold onto late.
SAU's second half production came courtesy of a much improved effort from beyond-the-arc (54%) in addition to a stifling defense that collected eight steals, forced 14 turnovers (+11 in the category in the final twenty minutes) and held HU to an 11% shooting clip from three.
LaTreavin Black led five Muleriders in double figures with 15 points and eight rebounds. Wyche scored 14 points in a game-high 32 minutes. Hammond Jr. added 13 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Blake Rogers followed with 11 points and Carraway Jr.'s ten points all came in the second half. SAU collected ten steals, fifth time this season, and committed just 11 turnovers, tied for the second fewest by SAU this season. The Muleriders matched a season-high in made free throws with 17.
Southern Arkansas trailed by 13 points at the break and was able to hold the deficit under 15 points after the Bisons did not make a field goal in the final 3:08 before the break.
The Muleriders scored the first two buckets of the game to set an early lead and the Bisons responded with a 9-0 run to take control and establish a lead for the final 16 minutes of the first half.
In that first half, the Muleriders struggled from beyond-the-arc making just two of its 13 attempts from range, while Harding made half of its 10 attempts from three-point range as part of a 57% effort from the floor in the opening twenty minutes.
Harding controlled the glass (18-16 rebounding) and in paint scoring (24-16) in the first half and used great ball movement to build its 45-32 lead as the Bisons picked up 15 assists.
SAU employed a tough defensive effort coming out of the half holding the Bisons to just five points in the first six minutes of play while forcing six turnovers in that span as well.
The Muleriders face a quick turnaround as a trip to Monticello looms on Monday. SAU meets its longtime rival Arkansas-Monticello at 7:30 p.m.