Not every championship contendor is going to have a smooth run for the title. For the SAU Tech Men's Rockets (16-8; 3-2 in regional play), they have played great in non-conference games. The Rockets have three stellar conference wins at home, but they also have two tough losses on the road.
The most recent loss for the Rockets was on Thursday, Jan. 26 with a 72-64 road loss to the SouthArk Stars. The Rockets were without their star offensive player in sophomore guard Allen Taylor. Without Taylor's high-productive scorer, the Rockets shot 33.3% from field goals (23-of-69) and 33.3% from the three-point arc (12-of-36).
The Rockets were able to rebound with a 94-68 at home over the Arkansas-Cossatot Colts with Taylor back in the lineup. The Rockets shot 48.6% from field goals (35-of-72), 52.6% from the three-point arc (10-of-19), and were 14-of-20 at the free-throw line.
Taylor was the team's leading scorer with 27 points shooting 10-of-17 in field goals and 6-of-9 from the three-point arc. He also accounted for six rebounds and two steals. Sophomore forward D'Aunte Johnson was a solid contributor off the bench as he scored 20 points shooting 9-of-12 in field goals. He also accounted for nine rebounds and five blocks.
The Rockets' big win over the Colts brings the team momentum and the ability to strive off the rhythm will be big for when they host the North Arkansas Pioneers (18-4; 3-2) this Saturday, Jan. 4. This game on Saturday will be the second time this season that the Rockets and the Pioneers will meet on the court.
SAU Tech defeated North Arkansas on the road 86-80 on Jan. 14 in a tough defensive battle. The Rockets made 40.6% of their field goals (26-of-64) and made 38.7% (12-of-31) from the three-point arc. The Rockets made 22-of-34 at the free-throw line. Both star offensive players for the Rockets and Pioneers struggled to the heavy pressure of the opposing defenses.
While the Pioneers were more efficient in getting baskets by shooting 42.9% (29-of-68), they were inefficient in three-point shooting at 28.6% (6-of-21).
The Rockets will have the edge if they can find more weaknesses with their systematic passing schemes. SAU Tech has passed the ball more efficiently at home than on the road. The biggest key for the Rockets is to contain Pioneers guard Mat Jones, who is third in the region in points per game at 18.5. He is just behind Taylor, who averages 20.6 points per game.
The winner of this game will possess a big advantage in the standings in a tight regional play. North Arkansas is the only team in the region to have 18 wins while SAU Tech and Arkansas State Mid-South both possess 16 wins. Arkansas State Mid-South currently sits on top of the standings with a 4-1 record, followed by SAU Tech, North Arkansas, and National Park College at 3-2.
The Rockets and the Pioneers are set to tip off on Saturday at 4:30 pm.