By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 14, 2015) — It seems any time Tarleton State and Midwestern State meet on the hardwood, an instant classic ensues.
Wednesay night was no disappointment with Midwestern (15-3, 4-0) building a double-digit lead then holding off a furious Tarleton (13-2, 1-2) rally for its 11th straight win in a 78-76 thriller at Wisdom Gym.
The series between the Lone Star Conference titans is even at 18-18 this millennia, with MSU winning three of the last four including eliminating Tarleton from the South Central Region Championship last season a week after the Texans defeated the Mustangs for the LSC championship.
Tarleton is 41-5 dating back to the start of last season, with three of the losses – and two wins – coming against MSU.
Tarleton used full-court pressure to trim a 69-60 deficit to 76-71, then pulled within two on a 3-pointer by TaShawn Mabry with 1:06 remaining. Mo Lee had a chance to tie it after a defensive stop, but was stripped on the way up by Bretson McNeal after penetrating the paint.
Lee fouled McNeal, who hit a pair to finish with 23 points. He was 5-9 from the 3-point arc.
Davene Carter slammed home a put back to cut it to 78-76 with four seconds remaining, and Tarleton fouled Derrell Gibbs, Midwestern’s worst free throw shooter. According to plan, Gibbs missed both, but with the Texans out of timeouts, Malcolm Hamilton was forced to rush to half court and heave one at the buzzer that clanged too hard off the backboard.
Thad Rideau and Khapri Alston were also in double figures with 14 each for the Mustangs, while Abiodun Adegoke had nine points and 10 rebounds.
The Mustangs had as many offensive boards as they did on the defensive end, out-rebounding Tarleton 36-28 including a 23-14 margin after intermission. The Mustangs collected 10 offensive boards in the second half.
“We knew rebounding would be huge against them, and it was,” said 27th year Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman, who slipped to 23-26 all-time against MSU. “If you take away some of those offensive rebounds, you probably have a different score up there right now.”
Tarleton was paced by Lee with 15 points, thanks mostly to a 9-10 performance from the foul stripe. Michael Hardge and Mabry each scored 14 and Hamilton added 11 on 4-6 shooting. Hardge also had four assists and three steals.
Tarleton was 26-32 from the stripe and shot 45.8 percent from the floor, while MSU was 18-28 at the line and 47.3 percent from the field.
Midwestern built its lead by dominating the early stages of the second half, turning a 41-39 deficit into a commanding 61-52 lead with 10:26 remaining.
It was a virtual stalemate until the five-minute mark when Tarleton began to have success with its pressure defense.
A pair of free throws from Hardge cut it to 69-62 before Mabry stole the ball and drained a 3-pointer to make it a four-point game. Hamilton came up with the next steal and broke away for a dunk that made it 69-67 with four minutes left.
McNeal’s biggest shot was an off-balance 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down, hitting nothing but net to give MSU a five-point lead. After a Tarleton free throw, Adegoke made it 74-68 on a put back in the paint with 1:51 remaining.
Hardge converted an ‘And-1’ play for Tarleton, Adegoke knocked down a pair of MSU charity shots then Mabry canned the big 3-pointer that made it a one-possession game and set up the wild last minute.
Following Carter’s dunk with four seconds left, tempers flared for the second time. Tarleton’s Hamilton and Midwestern’s Rideau were called for a double technical after McNeal picked up a tech earlier in the second half.
MSU maintained possession by rule, and inbounded to Gibbs, who entered the game shooting just 20 percent from the stripe.
Offense ruled the first half, with Tarleton shooting 53.8 percent and Midwestern 51.9. Lee scored eight points in the first half, when Rideau scored all of his 14 for MSU.
Tarleton scored the first seven points – five by Hardge – but five points by McNeal helped MSU quickly cut it to 9-7. The Mustangs’ first lead of the game was 18-17 after a 3-pointer by Rideau and the teams alternated baskets until a dunk by EJ Reed gave the Texans a 26-23 edge.
Damion Clemons buried a 3-pointer then slammed home a dunk for Tarleton’s largest lead of 31-23, but MSU cut it to 41-39 by the intermission.
“We knew it would be this type of game, it always is,” Reisman said. “It was close the whole way, both teams made runs, and both teams I thought played exceptionally hard. It was everything you expect from Midwestern and from us.”
Tarleton had its 14-game home win streak snapped by the Mustangs, who won their second straight at Wisdom Gym. MSU was the last team to beat Tarleton in Stephenville, winning an equally epic 77-75 overtime battle on February 5 of last year.
The Texans visit Cameron in Lawton, Oklahoma at 4 p.m. Saturday, following a 2 p.m. women’s contest. MSU is idle this weekend and visits No. 14 Angelo State next Wednesday in San Angelo.