By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (February 27,2015) — Tarleton State (25-2, 11-2) is one win away from its first ever league-wide regular season championship in the Lone Star Conference.
Standing in the way is Texas A&M-Commerce (21-6, 9-4), which also has a lot on the line as the Lions are even with Midwestern State for third place. The Lions are one of four LSC teams with 20 or more wins, and five of their six losses are by four points or less.
Game time is approximately 7 p.m. Sunday at Wisdom Gym following a 5 p.m. women’s contest. Inclement weather forced the games to be moved from Saturday to Sunday. The announcement came from Tarleton about 10:15 a.m. Saturday.
A&M-Commerce is fresh off its biggest win of the season, a 71-68 home decision over No. 15 Angelo State. The Lions did Tarleton a favor with that upset, guaranteeing the Texans at least a portion of the LSC title for the third time in four years.
Now the same Lions team will try to keep Tarleton from winning it outright. They could also move into third place in the LSC with a win and a Midwestern loss to Cameron. That game – in Wichita Falls – has been moved to Sunday afternoon due to Winter weather.
A&M-Commerce is ranked seventh in the South Central Region and is trying to reach the NCAA playoffs for the first time since hosting a regional won by Tarleton in 2005. And the Lions have a dangerous lineup you would expect from a 20-win club.
Oklahoma State transfer Darrell Williams may be the best big man in the LSC, and has certainly made a case for LSC Player of the Year consideration. He averages a strong double-double at 18.1 points and 11.9 rebounds after 20 points and 17 boards against ASU Wednesday.
Big guard LaDon Carnegie averages 15.9, Anthony Adams 11.5 and Christian Macauley 10.2. In the paint, Wlliams shoots 56.9 percent and Macauley 54.4.
But Tarleton has solid personnel, too, even after the dismissal of senior forward TaShawn Mabry, who averaged 12.6 points and was removed from the team due to what university athletic communications representatives label a “violation of the student-athlete code of conduct.” Mabry scored 24 points in Tarleton’s 77-73 victory at A&M-Commerce on January 31.
Senior guard Mo Lee is the reigning offensive player of the week in the LSC and averages 14.9. He’s been particularly impressive late in the season, scoring 20.1 over the last nine games. He also had 24 points in Tarleton’s tough road win in Commerce.
Junior point guard Michael Hardge averages 10.4 for Tarleton while EJ Reed scores 8.8 and Malcolm Hamilton 8.1. Hamilton is expected to be a significant part of each game plan with Mabry gone. A junior who can play both guard and forward, Hamilton shoots 51.4 percent for the year and is coming off a 14-point effort in Tarleton’s 88-58 thrashing of McMurry Wednesday.
The teams’ seasons have followed a similar path, except Tarleton has been better in close games. In games determined by five points or less, Tarleton is 8-1 and A&M-Commerce just 3-5. When a game is decided by more than five, TAMUC is 18-1 and Tarleton 17-1. Tarleton has not lost to a club with less than 20 wins, and the Lions have lost to only one, Dallas Baptist.
Tarleton won the North Division and the LSC Championship tournament in 2004, its last claim to an outright LSC title. The Texans also won the South Division in 2002, shared the North with national champion Northeastern State in 2003 and won the South outright in 2006 and 2011.
The league dropped its divisions and and reverted back to league-wide regular-season champions in 2012, after the Oklahoma members bolted for the Great American Conference or the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association. Tarleton shared regular-season title with Midwestern State in 2012 and 2014, and has won the past two LSC tourneys, giving them three tournament titles since joining the league in 1994.
TexAnns look to lock up No. 4 seed
The women’s game won’t determine a conference champion, but seeding for next week’s conference tournament is definitely on the line.
Tarleton (16-9, 8-7) is currently alone in fourth in the LSC, and will lock down that spot with a win. Texas Woman’s (15-12, 8-8) is done with regular-season play is between the TexAnns and A&M-Commerce (15-12, 8-8). If there is a theree-way tie, Texas Woman’s would get the No. 4 seed, A&M-Commerce the No. 5 spot and Tarleton would be the No. 6 seed entering the LSC Championship tournament.
A&M-Commerce outscored Tarleton by 18 in the second half to win 84-77 when these teams squared off in Commerce on January 31. The TexAnns built a 38-27 halftime lead only to allow 57 second-half points.
The Lady Lions have just one double-digit scorer – Gabby Scott with 10.1 per game. La’Tisha Hearne averages 9.3 points and 7.2 rebounds, while Princess Davis scores 9.1.
Tarleton is led by senior point guard Kathy Thomas with 13.8 points Ikpeaku Iwobi is scoring 10.7 and grabbing 8.7 boards. Bailey Wipff and Raven McGrath score 8.6 and 8.0, respectively.