By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 10, 2015) — Not even a flagrant foul by Troy Jones could stop Malcolm Hamilton once he was in mid-flight.
Hamilton stole the ball, went coast-to-coast and smashed a dunk in the face of Jones, who fouled out by hammering Hamilton to the floor.
The Wisdom Gym crowd erupted with the dunk, then laid it on Jones as he walked to the bench. The dunk and ensuing free throws helped Tarleton (13-1, 1-1) pull away, 59-44, in a rugged Lone Star Conference battle against Texas A&M-Kingsville (5-9, 0-2) that featured seven ties and a 18 lead changes.
Tarleton, which hosts arch-rival Midwetsern State at 8 p.m. Wednesday, defeated the Javelinas for the 24th time in their last 27 meetings including the 15th time in 16 games in Stephenville.
Hamilton’s dunk may have been the biggest highlight, but it was the steady performance of Mike Hardge and a key stretch of five straight points by TaShawn Mabry that powered the Texans to the win in a game much closer than the final score indicates.
Tarleton ended the game on a 17-1 run after falling behind 43-42 on a pair of Jordan Jahr free throws with 6:28 left. A&M-Kingsville hit just one free throw the rest of the way, and did not have a single field goal following a layup by Jones with 7:47 remaining.
TaShawn Mabry scored five straight points after Jahr’s free throws, connecting on a foul shot of his own before hitting a 15-foot baseline jumper and a tip-in for a 47-43 Tarleton lead. Mabry finished with nine points and six boards.
Michael Hardge had the biggest night for Tarleton, knocking down 11 of 15 free throws on his way to a career-high 20 points just three nights after posting his previous career high of 17.
Arguably the biggest shot of the night, however, belonged to Mo Lee, who had 10 points in his return to the starting lineup for the first time in three games. Lee buried a left-corner 3-pointer from just in front of the TArleton bench with an A&M-Kingsville defender right in his face, stretching the advantage to 50-43 with 2:40 to go.
Jones made a free throw for A&M-Kingsville’s final point with 2:20 remaining. It did little to slow the Javelinas’ bleeding.
Hardge followed with five of six free throws to make it 55-44 with 1:46 remaining, and after an ensuing defensive stop fired the pass ahead that freed Hamilton for the highlight-reel dunk and flagrant foul that set off the large crowd on Stephenville Night at Wisdom Gym.
Tarleton shot just 38.6 percent, but hit 40.9 percent in the second half. On the other end, the Texans held the Javelinas to just 32.1 percent including 26.9 percent after halftime. A&M-Kingsville missed its last 10 field goal attempts.
The Javelinas had just one more turnover (13) than Tarleton (12), but it was the Texans who cashed in the opportunities on takeaways for a 21-6 advantage in points off turnovers.
The biggest disparity came from the foul stripe, where Tarleton was 23-35 and A&M-Kingsville just 6-9.
“That was definitely part of the game plan,” said Hardge. “I’m just letting the game come to me, taking what’s there and trying not to do too much. But anytime the opportunity is there, I want to be aggressive and try to get to the line.”
The win was right on time for a third-ranked Tarleton team that suffered its first loss Wednesday. The Texans are now 41-4 since the start of last season.
“We needed this win to get our confidence back, and we sure picked a tough night to try and get it back,” Reisman said. “They have a good system and they play very hard, just like we know Midwestern State will play very hard when they come here Wednesday.”
The last time Tarleton scored less than 60 was in 53-50 victory over Midwestern State in the championship of the 2013 LSC tournament in Allen.
Jones, A&M-Kingsville’s leading scorer with 13, spent much of the first half on the bench in foul trouble. He played just 18 total minutes and was 5-6 shooting while collecting six boards.
Tarleton trailed or was tied for the bulk of the first half before Hardge scored the final four points on a jumper and a pair of free throws for a 27-24 lead at the intermission. Neither team led by more than five over the opening 32 minutes.