By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (November 14, 2014) — No. 12 Tarleton State (2-0) built a 14-point second-half lead then held on despite a furious late rally by Lubbock Christian (0-2), winning 65-61 in the final game of the Whataburger Texan Tipoff Classic at Wisdom Gym Saturday night.
“Did we play great, no. But it’s the opening weekend of our season and we’re 2-0, so we’re where we want to be,” said 27th year Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman. “This was a good event, it always is. There was a lot of good basketball played here this weekend.”
Classic MVP Mo Lee led everyone with 18 points and 10 rebounds while also collecting three steals. Davene Carter also doubled up with 12 points and 11 boards and made the all-tournament team, along with TaShawn Mabry, who came off the bench to score nine points from the arc.
True freshman Nosa Ebomwonyi hit a 3-pointer to put Tarleton ahead 54-40 with 5:24 remaining, but there were plenty of nervous moments down the stretch.
Tarleton was still ahead 60-49 after a pair of free throws by Carter with 2:06 left, but moments later the high-flying senior was whistled for a foul while blocking a shot with authority. He verbally disagreed with the call, and drew a technical for his fifth foul. Carter didn’t miss a shot, going 4-4 from the field and 4-4 from the stripe.
Lubbock Chrsitian hit one of the two technical free throws and both the personal freebies to pull within eight with 1:29 left. Marcos Schuster stole the ball away from EJ Reed at the other end, then knocked down a jumper to make it 60-54 with 1:15 to play.
Teven Jones made one of two free throws, but AJ Lucky buried an LCU 3-ball to trim its deficit to 61-57.
Jones made one of two again for a five-point Tarleton edge with 42 seconds left. The teams then traded turnovers before Schuster missed a 3-point try and Lee snared the board for Tarleton. Lee was fouled and hit just one of two himself from the line before Schuster drove into the paint for layup at the other end, making it 63-59 with seven seconds on the clock.
Jones finally managed to make both free throws on his final trip to the stripe, essentially putting the game away with four seconds left. Schuster missed a 3-pointer and teammate Ridrell Holman tipped in the rebound just before the buzzer, but it was too little, too late for LCU.
Michael Hardge was also in double figure with 10 Tarleton points and five assists. Lucky scored 14 for Lubbock Christian, which picked up nine each from Schuster, Holman and Isaac Cardona.
Several factors kept LCU in the game, beginning with turnovers and points in the paint. Tarleton struggled to run its offense and scored just 12 points inside while committing 18 turnovers. LCU, which had just 13 giveaways, scored 18 in the paint and 17 off takeaways
The Texans shot just 36.4 percent from the floor, with exactly half its makes and attempts coming from the arc. They were 8-22 from 3-point range and went 25-32 for 78.1 percent at the foul stripe.
“We struggled to get into our offense and run it effectively, but we knew that would take some time with four new starters out there,” Reisman explained. “What we needed was playing time together, and now we have to build on these experiences so they benefit us later in the season.”
LCU shot a slightly better at 37.7 percent, but had fewer attempts because of Tarleton’s 40-28 advantage on the backboards. The Chaparrals were 14-21 from the free throw line, where they were outscored by 11.
“Rebounding was a big point of emphasis for us because I felt like it was a weakness for us last season,” said Reisman, who won his 560th game at Tarleton Saturday and guided the Texans to their third Lone Star Conference championship and on to the regional semifinals last year. Tarleton grabbed 20 offensive rebounds in a preseason exhibition at TCU on Nov. 6. “You can tell we put a lot of work in improving that area of our game. It’s something you have to do well if you want to be successful.”
Tarleton is idle throughout the coming weekdays and returns to action against Dallas Christian next Saturday, Nov. 22. Tipoff is about 7 p.m. following a 5 p.m. women’s contest, both at Wisdom Gym.
“We have found a starting point, we know where we’re at to begin the year,” said Reisman. “From playing TCU then being in two games this weekend, we’ve seen a lot of things and learned a lot about our team. Now we have a full week to practice and prepare. We’ll be a better basketball team when we play next Saturday than we were here in our first two games.”
Tarleton defeated New Mexico Highlands 72-52 in Friday’s classic play. The other men’s games were won by Texas A&M-Commerce, which defeated LCU 83-76 on Friday and Highlands 82-63 on Saturday.