Tarleton hosts arch-rival Midwestern tonight
By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 14, 2015) — Is it the best college basketball rivalry in Texas?
Many say yes, and in the Division II ranks, it is almost a rhetorical question.
The best answer doesn’t come in words, but in atmosphere, and no Division II rivalry in the Lone Star State presents an atmosphere like the men’s teams of Tarleton State (13-1, 1-1) and Midwestern State (14-3, 3-0).
A rivalry bred by the immense success of both programs, Tarleton and Midwestern have faced off 35 times since the year 2000, with Tarleton winning 18 and Midwestern 17. They have met in the last three Lone Star Conference championship games, Tarleton winning the last two – by three points and six – after Midwestern won in 2012.
And after meeting twice annually in the LSC regular-season race and usually for a third time in the conference tournament, the two have even become regular foes in the South Central Region Championship, where Midwestern has eliminated Tarleton four times since 2010.
Last year, Tarleton and Midwestern faced off four times, each winning twice. The total score between the teams after 165 minutes of heads up action (the game in Stephenville went to overtime) was 297-297.
“It’s one of the best rivalries in the state, no doubt. It’s the best rivalry I’ve been around as a coach, and I believe it’s a rivalry that has been great for both programs and the Lone Star Conference,” said 27th year Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman, who has 571 wins at the school. “We have a great deal of respect for their program, I believe they feel the same way about us, and we’ve both achieved a great deal of success through the years. You don’t really have a rivalry when it’s one-sided, and this thing has been anything but one-sided.”
The 36th meeting this millennia between the LSC titans is set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Wisdom Gym, following a 5:30 p.m. women’s contest (brief preview at end of this story).
“I think we will have a great atmosphere here. They are in first place in our league, and they always travel well, plus school is back in session so we should have a great turnout from our student body in addition to the wonderful community support we always receive,” said Reisman.
In short, Wisdom will be rocking. But will the Texans be winning?
Reisman says there are two primary keys for his club, and clearly, the same are keys for MSU.
“Rebounding is a big one, obviously, you have to rebound well against them, and you have to shoot a high percentage because you know they are not going to give you a lot of opportunities on the offensive glass,” Reisman said.
Several things, of course, contribute to those primary keys.
“We have to execute our offense to get good looks against them, because they play great team defense. We are very similar in that way,” Reisman said. “We have to defend well, but that’s the case every game. And we have got to fight to block out and establish position on the boards, that’s the biggest thing against a team like Midwestern.”
Tarleton has not lost at Wisdom Gym since MSU edged the Texans 77-75 in overtime last year. It was the first loss suffered by the 2013-14 Texans after an 18-0 start. They have since won 14 straight at home. Overall, the Texans have won 41 of 45 contests since the start of last season.
Not to be outdone, MSU has won 10 straight by an average margin of 21.8 points.
Leading the visiting Mustangs is accurate shooting guard Bretson McNeal, a 45.5 percent 3-point shooter averaging 15.8 points per game. But like most years – and like Tarleton – balance is the key to Midwestern’s offense. Xavier Blackburn averages 10.7 points and 6.5 boards, and Devante Pullum scores 10 per game. Six other players average at least five points with a seventh scoring 4.9.
Blackburn is the leader among a bevy of players who hit the glass. Six players average at least four rebounds per game, and as a team the Mustangs out-rebound foes by 11.8 per contest. The Mustangs score 77.4 per game and allow just 61.8.
Even after its first loss, Tarleton is outscoring opponents 75.6 to 58.6, and is out-rebounding foes 36 to 31.4. Guards Michael Hardge and Mo Lee each score 11.7 per game, and Hardge deals 3.6 assists. The Texans are three-tenths of a point shy of having five double-digit scorers. TaShawn Mabry averages 10.5, Malcolm Hamilton 10.3 and Davene Carter 9.7 while leading the club with 6.4 rebounds per outing. In all, the Texans have eight scorers averaging more than five points.
TexAnns look to end MSU’s 12-game win streak
The women’s game is equally important, and just like in the men’s contest, MSU enters with an unbeaten LSC mark while Tarleton has one loss.
Tarleton has won 16 of the last 20 meetings, but the Mustangs enter the game with the momentum of a 12-game win streak including a 77-64 upset of then-No. 3 West Texas A&M a week ago in Wichita Falls.
The Mustangs have four double-digit scorers led by Diana Jones at 14.2 points per game. Andrea Carter averages a double-double of 12.6 points and 10 rebounds, while Lisa Hampton is scoring 10.6 and Shatoia Glover 10.4. Three others average more than five points.
The Mustangs are outscoring foes 71.1 to 58.7 and out-rebounding them 39.3 to 32.5.
Tarleton is led by senior guard Kathy Thomas with 13.1 points per game, while sophomore forward Ikpeaku Iwobi scores 11.9 and senior forward Karli Moore nets 9.5. Four others score at least 6.2.
Iwobi is Tarleton’s leading rebounder with 7.5 boards per outing. The Texans are out-rebounding opponents 37.6 to 35.5 and outscoring them 69 to 63.3.