By BRAD KEITH
Photos by CHET MARTIN
STEPHENVILLE (February 20, 2015) — Tarleton State is making a push for the Lone Star Conference regular season championship, and Mo Lee is making a push to be the league’s player of the year.
Lee poured in a career-best 26 points Saturday night to lead No. 11 Tarleton to a 65-55 win over upset-minded Eastern New Mexico at Wisdom Gym. It’s his sixth 20-point outburst during LSC play, his second of the week.
The win, paired with Cameron’s upset of No. 10 Angelo State, lifts Tarleton to a half-game lead over ASU in the conference standings. The tiebreakers currently favor ASU, but both teams have a game against Texas A&M-Commerce remaining. Tarleton breaks from league play with a trip to McMurry in Abilene Wednesday, and hosts TAMUC on Saturday.
“What you try to do every year is take control of your own destiny as far as winning the conference championship and getting into the regional tournament, and we’ve done that,” said Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman. “We don’t have to scoreboard watch anymore. If we take care of our business we know we will win at least a share of the conference championship and we know we will be in the NCAA tournament.”
Lee, a senior guard from The Bronx in New York is averaging 19.7 points over the last 10 games and is doing it efficiently. He was 8-12 from the floor and 8-11 from the free throw stripe Saturday. He had a four-point play in the first half, hitting a 3-pointer while being fouled then adding the free throw. He also earned three ‘and-1’ opportunities penetrating the defense and attacking the basket.
“Most of the time, I’m just trying to get to the free throw line and get the easy points,” said Lee, who also collected six rebounds and blocked two shots. “I was lucky enough to hit a few while getting fouled tonight, so I can’t complain.”
His head coach certainly wasn’t complaining about the senior’s play.
“Mo Lee is playing very well at this time, and we need him to continue to score the way he has for us over the last several games,” said Reisman. “We need other guys to keep supporting him and to play at a championship level, too, because he is certainly playing at that level himself right now.”
Three Texans supported him with eight points each, including Nosa Ebomwonyi, who had five boards, Michael Hardge, who was 6-6 from the foul line and Damion Clemons who also grabbed nine boards in 26 minutes off the bench.
The game started oddly enough, with Tarleton shooting almost exclusively 3-pointers. The Texans, the No. 1 team in the South Central Region, did not attempt a 2-point shot over the first nine minutes of the game, and their first such attempt was a missed tip-in of, you guessed it, a failed 3-point try.
“We started a little sluggish,” Lee admitted. “We had to get back to what we had been doing all year, and that’s going inside-out.”
By the end of the half, Tarleton was 6-14 from the field, including 5-12 from the arc and 1-2 from inside the arc.
“We didn’t look to get it inside,” said Reisman, whose club led 26-21 at intermission. “And that’s what we talked about at halftime. We have good inside players, and we have to work to get the ball in there. We did a better job of that in the second half.”
Tarleton shot 52 percent from the floor after the break, making only 2-point shots while going 0-5 from outside the arc.
Tarleton pushed the lead to as large as 17 with 5:45 left, and though ENMU did pull within eight, the Texans were never in danger down the stretch.
Tarleton limited the Greyhounds to just 37.3 percent shooting, yielding 60 or less points for the second straight game.
ENMU hoisted more 3-point tries than 2-point attempts. The Greyhounds did hit 10 treys, four of them by Chris Wyms on his way to a team-leading 16 points.
“I think we’re playing pretty well defensively right now, but you can always get better,” said Reisman. “Now is the time of the year where you hope to be playing well and tweaking a few things to try and peak at the right time, and I feel like that’s kind of where we’re at.”
Lee says defense is always the top priority for the Texans.
“That’s our big thing is our defense. Coach tells us every day in practice and before every game that defense is going to win championships,” Lee said. “We like to let defense create offense and take it from there.”
Lee will be playing for at least a share of a conference title in the final regular season game of his college career next Saturday.
“That’s big for us, because this is what we work hard for,” he said. “This team just works hard trying to achieve the goals we set early in the year, and that’s one of them, to win the conference championship.”