HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (3/3/12) – Once the Arkansas State men's basketball took the lead over Florida Atlantic, they never relinquished it as the Red Wolves rolled to a 70-55 victory in the opening round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Saturday.
Four Red Wolves scored in double-digits led by a game-high 23 by junior guard Marcus Hooten as ASU improved to 13-19 on the season. FAU ended its second with an 11-19 record.
"I was proud of our guys tonight because it was one of our better games," said ASU head coach John Brady. "One of the keys to the game was the opponent's field goal stat throughout the game and we've tended to have one good field goal stat half where the opponent was low but then they would come out in the second half and shoot 50 percent or better, but tonight we consistently made this team miss. We went back and got the rebound for the most part and then when we got the lead we got to the foul line and made some free throws."
Hooten shot 8-12 from the floor and 3-5 from beyond the arc and was 4-5 at the free throw line Hooten also had five rebounds in 36 minutes of action. Following Hooten, senior forward Malcoln Kirkland had 15 points, junior forward Brandon Peterson had 13 and junior guard Trey Finn had 12.
ASU outrebounded the Owls 41-34 and were led by Kirkland, Peterson and Finn who had nine boards each. Kirkland had a game-high four blocked shots. Finn was also 10-12 from the free throw line.
Free throws by Peterson at the 12:57 mark gave ASU an 8-6 lead, FAU would only get within one possession four times the rest of the game as ASU took a 36-27 advantage into the locker room after freshman guard Rakeem Dickerson hit three free throws with 0.1 seconds left in the first half.
ASU came out strong in the second half and used an 8-2 run to take a 44-29 lead after a layup from Finn just 3:33 into the half. A pair of free throws from Finn with 6:49 left to go gave ASU it's largest lead of the game, 60-41. The Red Wolves maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
The Red Wolves shot 40.8% from the floor connecting on 20-49 of their attempts. ASU also took advantage of 38 trips to the free throw line connecting on 27-38. FAU shot 36.5% (21-59) and were sent to the line nine times in the game, connecting on eight free throws.
ASU will now advance to the second round of the SBC tournament and face top-seeded Middle Tennessee at 6 p.m. on Sunday at the Summit Arena. In their only meeting this year, the Blue Raiders picked up a 59-43 win over the Red Wolves on January 19. Arkansas State students receive free admission to the SBC tournament by presenting their student ID.