CONWAY, Ark. (12/16/16) – Donte Thomas dished out a career high 13 assists, none bigger than an alley-oop to C.J. Foster that sparked a 21-4 run as Arkansas State men’s basketball left Central Arkansas with an 89-77 victory.
The victory improved the Red Wolves to 9-2 on the season, the best start by an A-State team since 2003-04. The win also marked the fourth non-conference road win, most in a single-season since the 1986-87 team had four such wins.
Devin Carter followed his record breaking 3-point outing with a game-high 20 points while Deven Simms equaled his career high with 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting. Connor Kern (11) and Tamas Bruce (10) also reached double figures to help A-State to 80-plus points in back-to-back games. Derreck Brooks led Central Arkansas (1-10) with 12 points and he was one of four players in double figures.
“We had some big turning points at halftime, but we have a ton of respect for Central Arkansas and Coach Pennell,” said A-State head coach Grant McCasland. “They are really close to getting this thing going and I think you’ll see that when they hit conference play. They were great tonight and put us on our heels in transition.”
“At halftime, I was all over Donte Thomas, but he was special in the second half. Finishing with 13 assists and one turnover is a phenomenal effort. He gave us a ton of energy and out of the timeout, (associate head coach) Ross Hodge calls the alley-oop play that Donte threw to C.J. and that was such a pivotal play. Simms was super-efficient and C.J. was solid again, but the guy that made the difference was Connor Kern. He made huge shots, but he stole the ball on one end, blocked a shot on a wide open layup and then finger rolled in a layup on the other end. Donte Thomas and Connor Kern in the second half really changed this game.”
A-State held a 44-39 advantage at the halftime break and Carter hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to make it 47-39 early in the second half. The Bears answered with a 20-8 run to take a 59-55 lead with 13:19 remaining. Central Arkansas remained in control leading 61-60 with 12:20 left. The Bears drove the lane and had a good look at a dunk, but it rimmed out and took the game to a media timeout with 11:58 left.
Out of the timeout, Thomas tossed the alley-oop to Foster at the rim and the slam gave the Red Wolves the 62-61 lead with 11:46 left. From that point, A-State scored the next 10 points to build a 14-point lead. In the second half alone, Kern was 3-for-3 from 3-point range and added a layup and block as the Red Wolves built a 14-point lead, 82-68, with 3:53 left.
The Bears refused to go away though, using a 7-0 run to cut the Red Wolves lead to 82-75 with 2:10 left. A-State hit 7-of-8 at the charity stripe over the final 1:04 to set the final score at 89-77.
The Red Wolves led much of the first half with an early 13-0 run providing the muscle. Central Arkansas led 8-5 with 17:23 on the clock, but A-State scored the next 13 points to hold an 18-10 advantage with 13:08 left.
Carter, coming off his school record 10 3-point night, hit his first and followed it with a layup to spark the run. A-State found a big spark off the bench with 20 of the 44 first half points coming from Simms (12) and Bruce (8). The Red Wolves finished 51.4 percent (18-35) from the field in the first half, but Central Arkansas hit five 3-pointers (5-of-14) and 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) from the charity stripe to pressure A-State.
The Red Wolves finished the game 49 percent (32-65) from the field and 37 percent (10-27) from 3-point range. Central Arkansas shot 52 percent in the second half (16-31) and finished 46 percent (28-61) on the night. The Bears were 7-for-19 (37 percent) from 3-point range while going 14-of-20 (70 percent) at the charity stripe.
“This time of year, you just go play and we are excited about our next opportunity,” McCasland said. “More importantly though, I’m excited that we found a way to win this one. They had one big push in them, but we had guys step up and make the small plays when it mattered most.”
A-State returns to action Wednesday at the Rocket City Classic in Huntsville, Ala., with an 8 p.m. matchup against Alabama. The game will air on SEC Network+ and be available on Watch ESPN and the ESPN3 platform.