HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (3/4/12) – After back-to-back three pointers by junior guards Trey Finn and Marcus Hooten, which gave the Arkansas State basketball team the lead with 2:18 left in the first half, the Red Wolves only trailed once therest of the game, knocking off top-seeded Middle Tennessee, 64-61 in the second round of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament Sunday.
Arkansas State (14-19) now will face No. 5 seed North Texas on Monday at 6 p.m. at the Summit Arena in the semifinals of the tournament. The win by the Red Wolvesties the biggest upset in Sun Belt Tournament history.
Middle Tennessee missed five free throws in the final minutes of the game, including three by Sun Belt Player of the Year Laron Dendy, which would have given the Blue Raiders the lead. Conversely, Hooten and senior forward Malcoln Kirkland each knocked down free throws in the final 20-seconds to maintain the Red Wolves lead.
"I am extremely proud of our team, I was proud of them last night and I am certainly proud of them tonight," said ASU head coach John Brady. "We beat a very good basketball team who throughout the course of the year has showed they are the best team in our league by what they have done. I have always thought that if you defended well and rebounded that you have a chance and we really defended well today. We guarded Middle Tennessee as well as anyone has."
MTSU led by 11 when Dendy laid the ball in with 8:11 remaining in the first half, 22-11. But ASU made eight defensive stops holding the Blue Raiders without a fieldgoal for 4:11 and used a 15-2 run to take a 31-28 lead into the locker room at halftime.
A-State then converted their first three shots of the second half to maintain its lead, but a three-pointer by Raymond Cintron gave the Blue Raiders the lead 39-38with 15:53 left in the game. Just a 1:20 later, a layup from Peterson put ASU back on top 40-39, a lead which they maintained the rest of the game.
The Red Wolves led by eight when Finn hit a three-pointer with 8:53 remaining in the game to put A-State up 49-41. A layup by junior forward Brandon Peterson with 5:45 left to go, also put ASU up by eight 54-46.
The Blue Raiders chipped away at the lead getting within one when Marcos Knight converted a pair of free throws with 1:39 left and again when Dendy hit a layup with just 13-seconds remaining.
Finn led three ASU players in double-digit scoring with 16 points. Hooten added 15 and Peterson had 13. Peterson also led all players on the boards with eight. ASU outrebounded MTSU 39-28, and outscored them in the paint 28-26.
The Red Wolves shot 43.8% from the floor (21-46) and connected on 6-12 shots of their shots from three-point range. ASU also converted 16-21 of their free throw attempts. MTSU shot 43.1% (22-51) and were 6-13 from three-point range. However they only converted 11-22 attempts from the free throw line. Cintron led MTSU with 15 points.
Arkansas State's semifinal matchup will be broadcast live on the Sun Belt Network tipping off at 6 p.m. Monday. All Arkansas State students receive free entry into the Sun Belt Tournament with a valid student ID.