LIONS HOLD OFF MULERIDERS FOR 60-57 SEASON-OPENING VICTORY
A&M-Commerce 60, Southern Arkansas 57
Location: Watson Athletic Center • Magnolia, Ark.
Records: A&M-Commerce (1-0); Southern Arkansas (0-3)
Up Next: at Drury • Springfield, Mo. • Saturday, Nov. 19 • 3 p.m.
MAGNOLIA, Ark. – A&M-Commerce built a comfortable second half lead, then held off a late Southern Arkansas rally to defeat the Muleriders 60-57 in the 2011 season opener at the Watson Athletic Center.
The forward duo of Preston Whitley and Desmond King paced the Lions on opening night as Whitley knocked in a team-best 14 points on five-of-nine shooting, including two-for-three from three-point range, with seven rebounds. King followed through with 13 points and eight rebounds for A&M-Commerce.
Devondrick Walker came up big in his Lion debut, finishing with 11 points and three rebounds with Brad Hambrick adding nine points and six assists on the night. Andrew Davis posted six points and five rebounds as well for A&M-Commerce.
Southern Arkansas set the tone early in its home opener, racing out to an 11-4 lead through the opening six minutes. Trailing 17-11 midway through the opening half, A&M-Commerce began to make its run, outscoring the Muleriders 27-7 over the final 11:30 to build a commanding 38-24 halftime lead.
Whitley hit a pair of big three-pointers during the run with King adding a pair of crucial baskets, including a jumper as time expired to help the Lions to the 14-point advantage at the intermission.
A&M-Commerce maintained its advantage early in the second half, keeping a double-digit lead over Southern Arkansas through the opening minutes. But the Muleriders staged a run of its own – trailing by 12 with 13:34 remaining in the game, Southern Arkansas slowly began to chip away at the Lion lead.
With A&M-Commerce holding a 55-46 lead, Southern Arkansas used an 8-0 run to pull to within one at 55-54 with just over five minutes to play. But key shots down the stretch kept Southern Arkansas at bay. After a King lay-up pushed the lead back to four at 58-54, the Muleriders pulled back to within one at 58-57 with 37 seconds to play. Hambrick would hit two key free throws with 15 seconds remaining, then the A&M-Commerce defense came through, keeping Southern Arkansas off the board to preserve the victory.
The Lions struggled from the floor on the night, shooting just 35.7 percent (20-of-56) and just 33.3 percent from the three-point arc (6-of-18), compared to 40.4 percent from the field for the Muleriders. But Southern Arkansas hit just three of 13 three-point field goals, giving the Lions the slim advantage.
Four Muleriders finished in double figures, led by 17 points from Rodney Hill with Juvon Demerson adding 12 points seven rebounds off the bench. Casey Cheshier and Chris Davis each added 10 points for Southern Arkansas.
A&M-Commerce improves to 19-13 all-time against Southern Arkansas and extended its winning streak over the Muleriders to seven-straight victories. The Lions also notched their third-straight season-opening victory.
A&M-Commerce now makes the trek north to face Drury in Springfield, Mo., Saturday afternoon. The Panthers are 1-1 on the year after dropping a 97-83 decision at Southwest Baptist Monday evening. Opening tip at the O'Reilly Family Event Center is set for 3 p.m. with live stats available at LionAthletics.com.