By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (February 11, 2015) — Tarleton State (20-2, 7-2) and Angelo State (21-1, 9-0) meet Wednesday evening in a game highly anticipated not only in Stephenville, San Angelo and across the Lone Star Conference, but throughout the South Central Region as well.
And thanks to both teams being in the top 12 in this week’s National Associaton of Basketball Coaches rankings, you can bet there will be some nationwide interest, too.
The No. 7 Rams bring a school-record 16-game win streak to Wisdom Gym for a 7:30 p.m. tipoff following a 5:30 p.m. women’s contest. The No. 11 Texans haven’t been too shabby leading up this showdown either, winning seven straight including consecutive road wins that knocked first Texas A&M-Commerce then Midwestern State out of the top 25.
“This is one of those games you don’t want to miss,” said Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman. “Obviously nobody’s season is going to end with this game, but it’s a chance for two great teams to display everything they have been working toward this season against a high-quality opponent in what should just be an outstanding atmosphere.”
Wisdom Gym has been packed of late, cramming capacity crowds in for recent home games against Midwestern, West Texas A&M and most recently Cameron. ASU brings in the highest-ranked team since No. 3 Tarleton hosted No. 2 Northeastern State in 2003, and is the first top 10 team to visit Wisdom Gym since No. 10 Midwestern in 2012.
“I think Angelo is excited about it and will bring a lot of people with them, and I believe our community and students will turn out in force,” Reisman said. “There will be a lot of fans very involved in the game, and it should make for a big-time atmosphere like you see with a lot of Division I rivalries.”
It’s taken ASU head coach Chris Beard just two seasons to transform the Rams from mediocre to one of the most feared men’s basketball operations in the country.
“He’s done an outstanding job of bringing in talent and then building their chemistry and getting them to play very well together, “ Reisman said of Beard, who in his first year (last season) at ASU guided the Rams to their first winning season (19-9) since 2009-10. “He’s brought a lot of excitement to their program and to their university, and that’s good for them and good for the Lone Star Conference.”
Unless you’re one of the teams trying to defeat the Rams, which so far no LSC team has done. Of course, there are still several land mines littering the schedule. They have not won at Wisdom Gym since February 8, 2001, and a home date with Midwestern as well as tough road trips to Cameron and Texas A&M-Commerce also remain.
The Rams beat the Texans 78-60 on Jan. 7 in San Angelo. and have not lost since being edged 70-67 by Colorado Mesa back on November 28 in Mesa’s Thanksgiving Classic.
Damario Mayfield poured in 22 points to lead four Rams in double figures when the Rams beat the Texans. Marsell Holden added 16, Chris Jones 12 and Raijon Kelly 10. Jones also had seven boards and six assists.
Those numbers are pretty typical of this ASU team that averages 89.1 points and wins by an average margin of 26.4. The same players average double figures for the year – Mayfield 16.5, Jones 15.7, Holden 13.9 and Kelly 10.4. Jones also averages five assists and 2.5 steals.
Tarleton, 14-1 at home this season, wins by 15.4 points per game, and has three double-digit scorers – Mo Lee 13.9, TaShawn Mabry 13.4 and Michael Hardge 10.5. Lee and Mabry have been especially impressive of late, with Lee topping 20 points in four of the last six games and Mabry pouring in 17 or more in five of the last seven.
Tarleton has won 48 of its last 53 overall, dating back to the start of last season. Three of the five losses have been to Midwestern State, one to Texas A&M-Commerce and one in its prior meeting this year with ASU.
The outcome will have a far-reaching effect on regional rankings, which because of the Division II playoff format, is more important than any effect on the national polls. Tarleton and ASU are two of seven teams across the South Central Region with five or less losses.
“There’s no doubt this game is one of those that will have a big impact on who is in our regional and where it is hosted,” said Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman. “But that’s good. You want to be in these games, they are the ones you work to make matter late in your season. We have some guys, especially amongst our seniors, who have been in a lot of them, and we hope that benefits us.”
The women’s game tips off the doubleheader at 5:30 p.m. as Tarleton looks to get back on track after consecutive losses to Midwestern State and Cameron. The TexAnns won the first meeting 81-71 on Jan. 7 in San Angelo, thanks largely to a fast start and 19 total points by junior guard Raven McGrath.
Tarleton is in currently tied with Texas Woman’s for fifth in the LSC, and fourth-place Texas A&M-Commerce is just a half-game ahead in fourth.