By BRAD KEITH
GOLDEN, Colo. (March 11, 2017) — Painfully an 11-point lead slipped away in regulation.
More painfully, so did Tarleton State’s season in overtime.
Joshua Blaylock scored 36 points for fifth-seeded Fort Lewis (26-6) and the Skyhawks survived 32 from Chantz Chambers to beat the fourth-seeded Texans, 94-90, in overtime Saturday night at Lockridge Arena.
Fort Lewis advances to a regional semifinal at 8:30 p.m. (CST) Sunday against Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference rival Colorado School of Mines, the No. 1 seed and host of the event. Mines held off Arkansas-Fort Smith, 90-79, in the prior quarterfinal contest Saturday.
The Texans lost their fifth straight for the first time since 1996 and for the first time to conclude a season in all 29 years under Lonn Reisman, the winningest coach at any level of college basketball in Texas.
Blaylock was the predominant reason why.
The senior guard was as advertised, hitting big 3-pointer after big 3-pointer in the face of tight, tenacious defense – usually from Nosa Ebomwonyi – and parading to the free throw line, where he was 13-16. His biggest 3 made it 89-86 Skyhawks with 1:58 left in overtime, and all the best efforts of Chambers couldn’t save the Texans in the final two minutes.
Chambers hit a pair of foul shots to cut it to one, Blaylock missed a 3, then Chambers missed a layup in a bang-bang sequence that ended with Blaylock rebounding and being fouled by Ebomwonyi – his fifth – before splitting the free throws for a 90-88 FLC edge with 1:11 left.
Chambers’ final points came on a hard-driving layup to tie the game at 90-90. It was the second 30-point game of his career after a career high 33 in a loss at Texas A&M-Commerce late in the regular season.
Rasmus Bach was fouled by Ridell Camidge while driving to the bucket for FLC, and his two free throws gave the Skyhawks the last lead of the night with 13.7 seconds to play.
Tarleton, of course, went to the hot hand, and that meant Chambers for the last look. The defender – Bach – gave him just enough space for Chambers to decide to hoist a 25-foot 3 from the left wing. It caromed off the rim, no good, and Tarleton had to foul when Blaylock grabbed the biggest rebound of the night. This time the senior guard buried both with 4.4 seconds left, sealing the FLC win.
Chambers discussed his shot at the end as part of Tarleton’s post game press conference.
Tarleton appeared to have everything going its way with a 57-46 lead and 13 minutes and change remaining.
But 13 minutes is an eternity in college basketball, especially in March Madness. The first nine of them had to especially feel like an eternity, with FLC using an extended 29-11 run to lead 75-68 with four minutes left in regulation. A Blaylock 3 – he was 5-14 from deep – evened the score at before a layup inside by Brandon Wilson gave the Skyhawks a 63-61 lead with 9:22 left.
Tarleton did grab a brief lead on a left corner 3 by Ebomwonyi, and was actually ahead 68-65 after an exchange that included a bucket by Chambers and two foul shots by point guard Deshawn Riddick.
But FLC scored the next 10, including a put back by Wilson and a transition layup by Blaylock for a 69-68 lead. It grew to 75-68 after a pair of free throws by Bach with four minutes left.
Chambers quickly showed that Tarleton would not go down easily, driving for an ‘And-1’ and adding the free throw to trim it to 75-71. He later made four straight foul shots to pull the Texans within 77-75 with 2:46 left. Blaylock made one of two at the line, Chambers drove and scored on a scoop shot in traffick, then Blaylock hit a pair, making it 80-77 with 1:53 remaining.
Ridell Camidge blew past a defender along the left baseline for a layup that brought Tarleton within one, and the Texans got a stop before Romond Jenkins was fouled trying to clean up a Chambers miss on another aggressive drive. Jenkins missed both free throws, but FLC stepped into the lane on one, and the ref awarded a third foul shot, which the senior center knocked down to tie the game at 80-80.
Blaylock attempted a 25 footer, straight away with Ebomwonyi playing finger tip-to-finger tip defense, and it hit the back of the rim and fell away, forcing overtime.
The game was tied at 82, 84 and 86 before the Blaylock 3 that began the finishing sequence culminating in the monumental win for Fort Lewis, and a final loss to complete a difficult final 23 days of the season for the Texans.
Jenkins had 26 points and 11 rebounds, his 18th double-double. He is the first Texan to finish a season averaging a double-double since Eric Williams in 2008-09. Jenkins scored 19 and grabbed 6 boards in the first half before being limited to 7 points and 5 boards in the final 25 minutes of play. His big first half helped Tarleton build a 42-35 lead at the break. It was tied at 35-35 before a 7-o Texan run, including a steal and breakaway dunk – with authority – to finish the first half scoring with the Texans on top, 42-35.
It was 44-43 in the second half before back-to-back 3-pointers by Camidge and a 3 by Chico Morales made it 53-43 en rout to the 57-46 lead that Fort Lewis overcame.
Camidge scored 11 and Anthony Davis 8 for Tarleton, while Ebomwonyi had 6 and 9 boards. The Texans were making their eighth straight regional tournament appearance and their 14th in 16 years, and fell in the quarterfinal round for the first time since 2013.
Wilson and Bach each scored 14 for FLC, and Wilson added 6 boards. Daniel Hernandez chipped in 13 points.
Other winners at the regional Saturday were No. 3 seed West Texas A&M, 97-86, over No. 6 Texas A&M-Commerce, and No. 7 Texas A&M-Kingsville, 74-71, on a banked-in 3 at the buzzer, over LSC champ and No. 2 UT-Permian Basin.