SAU fought hard, as they typically do, but at the end of the night, they have still only beaten Henderson State (twice) in conference play. Harding emerged with stronger play over the last few minutes of a very close game and won 73-70, clinching at least a tie for first place in the GSC West. I’ll come back to that shortly, but first let’s look at the game itself.
Harding 73, Southern Arkansas 70
Harding kept the offense flowing by minimizing turnovers and crashing the offensive boards, minimizing the effect of their difficulty getting off shots inside the arc. While the Bisons made just 37% of their two-point shots, they had a tremendous amount of success at the free-throw line, making 25 of 36. The Muleriders only attempted 12 free throws, although they made 11 of them.
The Bisons held Brandon Williams, the league’s leader in true shooting percentage, to 15 points, but it definitely wasn’t their best defensive performance. SAU was consistently getting off shots both inside and outside the arc, but they didn’t make enough or get enough second chances to pull off the upset.
As usual, the Bisons were led by Matt Hall, who scored over half of his 27 points in a perfect 14-for-14 night at the free throw line, adding in 5 assists and 5 rebounds as well. Trent Morgan had 13, and Kevin Brown had 10 to round out the double-digit scorers.
Jesse Bynum was really the only Bison who had a rough night offensively, missing all of his shots from the field and making just 2 of 7 free throws, although he made the most important ones after grabbing a big rebound in the final minutes.
At this point, I certainly can’t argue with the way Coach Morgan is giving out playing time. The most minutes in this one were played by Hall, Trent Morgan, Dixon, Barnett, Brown (who fouled out) and Bynum, in that order. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’d line them up exactly the same way. That doesn’t make it the right way, but I have to give Morgan high praise for adjusting with his team’s play throughout the year.
The Senior Night postgame festivities were emotional as always, but especially so because last night’s game was the final home game of Matt Hall’s brilliant six-year career at Harding. Dixon, Bynum, and Jacob Thies were among the other seniors honored for their contributions.
Long Live #30
At the conclusion of the night, the team retired Matt Hall’s #30 jersey, making him only the second Bison basketball player to be so honored (along with #20, for 3-time All-American Butch Gardner) and the first in over 30 years. Even though I don’t know Matt personally, I will always remember his contributions to Harding basketball. He has been the face of my alma mater’s athletic program for virtually the entire time I’ve been connected with Harding.
Hall redshirted his (and my) freshman year at Harding in 2002-03 as one of HU’s most prized basketball recruits ever. He gradually settled into a starting role the next year for a team that was still quite good, although they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament like the previous year’s squad. He came into his own in 04-05, winning the GSC West Player of the Year award as a sophomore.
Entering the 2005-06 season, the Bisons were regarded as one of the division’s best teams, but when Matt injured his knee in the season opener, his career and Harding’s season were immediately in jeopardy. The Bisons finished sixth in the GSC West that year, but Hall was granted a medical redshirt for the season, leaving him with two more years of eligibility. He and the team both bounced back the following season, with Matt picking up his second GSC West POY award.
This year, Hall has to be considered the favorite to win that award for the third time, with UAM’s Raymond Wright and CBU’s Kevin Weybright his principal competition (at least in my mind).
What this means for the GSC Tournament
I was planning to incorporate some analysis into this post, but I’m breaking it up. Another post will follow this afternoon.