MAGNOLIA, Ark. — Last week, the Great American Conference released its men’s basketball preseason coaches poll which featured last season’s GAC Western Division Champion Oklahoma Baptist narrowly edging tenth-year head coach Andy Sharpe‘s Muleriders for the top spot in the 12-team poll. Southern Arkansas matched OBU’s first place votes with six of their own, but received one less point than the Bison as SAU totaled 115 points to solidify the program’s highest preseason ranking as a GAC member.
Southern Arkansas defeated Oklahoma Baptist 74-71 in Shawnee during the semifinals of the GAC Tournament in the teams’ only meeting in the shortened spring season. The Muleriders posted a 15-6 record last season, shared the league’s one-time GAC Eastern Division crown with Arkansas-Monticello, advanced to the GAC Tournament Championship Game for the first time in program history, and punched the program’s first-ever NCAA postseason ticket.
The Muleriders’ ’21 season ended in the South Central Region tournament; an 83-61 loss to #16 Dallas Baptist, but nearly the entire roster returns, four newcomers have been welcomed into the fold and the target has never been larger for a Sharpe-led SAU squad.
Unlike last spring, SAU will benefit from a full, two-semester schedule that begins in Kansas City at the GAC/NSIC Regional Crossover with matchups against Augustana (11/12, 6 p.m.) and Northern State (11/13, 7:45 p.m.). Southern Arkansas will return to Magnolia for its home opener against Arkansas Baptist (11/17, 7 p.m.). Three days later, the Muleriders head west into Texas for a rematch with Dallas Baptist (11/20, 6 p.m.) before returning home for its next two contests: Champion Christian College (11/22, 7 p.m.) and Delta State (11/29, 7 p.m.).
Great American Conference play begins in early December with five league games scheduled during the month. SAU travels to Harding (12/2. 7:30 p.m.) and is home for Henderson State (12/4, 3 p.m.) and Ouachita (12/11, 3 p.m.) on back-to-back weekends, before playing at Arkansas Tech (12/18, 3 p.m.) in the team’s final game before the Christmas holiday.
Coming out of the break, SAU hosts Northwestern Oklahoma State on December 30 (7:30 p.m.) to wrap up play in 2021, before beginning a 17-game GAC stretch to close out the regular season that will include eight games in Magnolia in 2022.
Ten players return from that historic 2020-21 campaign including All-American performer Aaron Lucas who garnered GAC Player and Defensive Player of the Year honors last spring. The highly formidable paint-playing duo of Devante and Jalen Brooks, All-GAC honorees last season, return for their final season together as teammates.
Lucas averaged 17.1 points per game, the seventh-highest scoring average in the program’s DII Era (1995-96) and held a top five assists per game mark in the GAC of 4.5. A relentless defender, Lucas’ 54 steals and 2.6 steals per game average led the GAC.
Devante, the elder of the Brooks Brothers, averaged 13.1 ppg and 8.7 rebounds per game, while shooting a team-best 52.6% from the floor on his way to grabbing unanimous All-GAC First Team honors. Jalen was named to the Honorable Mention team after a season that saw him average 12.1 ppg, while grabbing a team-high 185 rebounds.
Additionally, the next six players in terms of minutes per game last season are all back highlighted by Blake Rogers and Victor Irhirhi. Rogers averaged over 28 minutes on the floor as he played in all 21 games with 20 starts. He was the team’s fourth-leading scorer averaging 11.5 ppg and ranked second on the team with 45 assists and 41 made three-point shots. Irhirhi logged over 15 minutes per game in an off-the-bench role that heavily aided the Muleriders.
Joining Sharpe’s tight-knit group this season are a pair of transfers in BJay Adesoga (Highland CC) and Ty Archibald (Lamar State Port Arthur) and two freshmen: Brayden Bradshaw (Denton Guyer HS) and Kendall Fair (OD Wyatt HS).
Later this week, SAU officially opens practice in preparation for the 2021-22 season. To stay up-to-date with Mulerider Men’s Basketball as the upcoming season nears, visit www.MuleriderAthletics.com.