By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (December 30, 2014) — Malcolm Hamilton made his first career start for unbeaten No. 4 Tarleton State (11-0) Tuesday night, and didn’t disappoint with 23 points in a 74-51 win over South Dakota Mines (3-9) at Wisdom Gym.
Hamilton, a junior college transfer in his first season at Tarleton, was at his best when the Texans needed him most. After a 22-point lead was cut to just 10 with seven minutes still to play, Hamilton stole the ball, went coast-to-coast and converted an old-fashion 3-point play. Moments later he buried a right-wing 3-pointer, and on the next possession converted another ‘and-1’ opportunity to push the lead to 61-41.
“I felt like they were trying to come back and we needed to get aggressive and make some plays,” said Hamilton, a Kansas City product. “I’m going to play the same way whether I come off the bench or start. Either way, it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to do everything I can for my team.”
It was the final home game of 2014 for the Texans, and it was against the same team they defeated in their first home game of the calendar year. They beat Mines 79-68 on Jan. 4, part of last season’s modern-era school-record 18-0 start.
Tarleton looks to continue its second best start to a season since becoming a four-year school on Friday. The Texans host York College (Neb.) in their first game of 2015, with tipoff set for 7 p.m. It will be head coach Lonn Reisman’s 800th game as head coach at Tarleton, where he is currently 569-230.
Hamilton was 9-14 from the floor and was the only Texan to reach double figures. He also had four rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots in 27 minutes.
Tarleton burst ahead 33-14 at halftime, and led by 22 after the third 3-pointer by true freshman Nosa Ebomwonyi in the opening seconds of the second half.
South Dakota Mines responded with 10 straight points, eight of them by Travis Schock after he did not score in the opening half. He finished with 11, matching Konor Kulas as the leading scorers for the Hardrockers.
The big run closed Tarleton’s lead to 36-24 with more than 16 minutes still to play, but the bleeding was soon stopped by, who else, Hamilton. He drove into the paint and slammed one down to end the Mines run, though another was coming.
After Mo Lee knocked down a 10-foot runner to make it 51-33, the Hardrockers scored the next eight to pull within 10 again before Hamilton’s big stretch ended the drama.
Reisman was not pleased with the way his team played in the second half.
“I was not pleased, particularly with the way we rebounded in the second half,” said Reisman, whose club was out-rebounded 22-14 after the intermission and 37-33 overall in their first game back from the Christmas break. “I can understand being a little rusty in some areas after 11 days off, but there is no excuse for not rebounding.”
Mines had 17 offensive rebounds and turned it into 14 second-chance points.
“We cannot let that continue. We’ll play some teams in our conference that are even tougher to rebound against, and we certainly can’t give them 17 extra looks at the basket,” Reisman said. “We have to do a much better job in that area.”
It certainly wasn’t all bad. Tarleton shot 48.3 percent from the field and turned 22 Mines turnovers into 26 points. There were also 16 assists on 28 made baskets, including five distributed by by Mo Lee, who scored 14 points.
Three of Lee’s dimes could very well find their way onto Tarleton’s highlight reel. He had a no-look pass to set up a dunk by Davene Carter and a between the legs bouncer underneath to Jakob Damstra in the first half. In the second, he fired another no-look bullet, this one across the front court through defenders to set up Hamilton for his final 3-pointer that restored the 20-point advantage.
“He’s a great passer. That was a great pass he threw to me,” Hamilton said. “I wasn’t expecting him to pass it, but he got it there and the shot was open.”
Ebomwonyi and TaShawn Mabry scored nine each for the Texans, while Carter and EJ Reed both added six.
The first Ebomwonyi 3-pointer put the Texans up 5-3 just more than a minute into the game, and they led the rest of the way. That ignited a string of 11 straight points by the Texans, ending with an acrobatic basket with a foul by Lee, who hit the ensuing free throw for a 13-3 lead.
Another 3-ball by Ebomwonyi touched off a 9-2 Tarleton push that made it 28-10 with 4:15 left in the half, and the freshman’s third triple made it 31-12 with 2:40 on the clock.
Hamilton ended the first-half scoring in grand style, stealing the ball, sprinting past two Mines defenders and smashing down a right-handed dunk.
“The more we practice and the more we play, the more comfortable I get and the more comfortable we get as a team,” said Hamilton. “As long as we keep working hard we can’t do anything but get better.”
That’s music to the ears of his head coach.
“Did we do some good things tonight? Yes,” Reisman said. “But we know we have to get better. We know we’re going to have to play a lot better to beat the teams in our conference.”
It was not the beginning to a grueling road trip that Mines was hoping for. The Hardrockers were supposed to fly from South Dakota to Texas Monday night, but were delayed by weather and did not arrive at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport until almost 1 p.m. Tuesday.
From Stephenville, Mines travels to Wichita Falls to take on Midwestern State Wednesday night. The Hardrockers, who entered their Christmas Break on the heels of a 97-71 win over LSC member Eastern New Mexico, will play a total of five games in five cities over a span of seven days, traveling 2,669 total miles.