West Point, NY (A-State) – The Arkansas State men's basketball team captured the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Mainland tournament title with a 73-67 victory over Chattanooga Sunday afternoon at Christl Arena.
Senior guard Donte Thomas led the Red Wolves (4-1) with his first double-double of the season with 18 points and 10 assists, while senior Devin Carter scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds. Freshman Jahmiah Simmons also finished in double figures with 12 points on the afternoon.
"When you get in these kind of games against teams that won 29 games last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, you hope to be the team that throws the first punch, and that's we were able to do today," said A-State head coach Grant McCasland. "Our defensive really played tough in the first half. We were really close (defensively), but we fouled too much. I don't want to take away our aggressiveness because I like it, but we were one or two fouls away from having one of the best games I've seen defensively."
A-State used an 11-0 run midway through first half to build a 21-10 advantage with 9:28 go in the half. Carter sparked the run with a 3-pointer on an assist from Thomas. The Mocs (3-2) refused to go away, however, and closed the gap to 21-16 after a layup by Greg Pryor with 7:36 left in the half.
The A-State lead remained in single digits for much of the rest of the half until Simmons helped his team close out the half on a 10-2 run to push the lead to 39-25 at the break. Simmons started the run with a layup, while Connor Kern hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds to go to give Arkansas State a 14-point advantage.
Carter and Tamas Bruce scored the first 10 points of the second half to help the Red Wolves push the lead to 49-29. The lead grew to a 22-point advantage after a layup by Rashad Lindsey with 14:43 and stayed in double-digits until the Mocs mounted a comeback late in the game.
Pryor knocked down three free throws after he was fouled on a 3-point attempt to cut the lead to 66-57 with 42 seconds to go, but Carter scored on a tip-in on the next trip down the floor for A-State to get the advantage to 11 points.
Pryor drained a 3-pointer with 13 seconds to go get within nine, but Thomas hit two free throws with five seconds to get the lead back to double-digits to end the hopes of a last second comeback by Chattanooga.
A-State completed the Maui Jim Maui Invitational Mainland tournament with a perfect 4-0 record in the event. The Red Wolves opened the week with a 100-57 win over Central Baptist before taking three-straight wins away from the Convocation Center. A-State earned victories over Georgetown (78-72) and Army (60-57) in addition to today's win to clinch the preseason tournament title.
The preseason tournament title was also the first since Arkansas State won the Zippy's Classic in 1997 and the 12th preseason tournament crown in the program's history. It was also just the fourth preseason tournament A-State has won outside of Jonesboro.
Arkansas State shot 54.5 percent from the field, compared to the Mocs' 36.4 percent. The Red Wolves also knocked 66.7 percent of their 3-pointer attempts and went 17-of-23 from the free throw line. The bench also played a key component in the win, scoring 27 points.
"Offensively, you can see us maturing with us making plays in times where the defense gives us something," McCasland added. "This was an exciting win after the turnarounds we've faced this week. To be able to do this, you have to have a tremendous staff and we are very fortunate from our coaches to our strength and conditioning coach to our trainer and graduate assistants. Everybody contributed to making this happen with the amount of games in this short period of time and we face another short turnaround with game on Tuesday back home."