By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 1, 2015) — Tarleton State had won Lone Star Conference North and South Division titles, LSC Championship tournament titles and had shared league-wide LSC regular-season championships.
But the last of those, the marathon-esque journey to the league-wide LSC regular-season title, is something Tarleton and veteran head coach Lonn Reisman had never succeeded in enjoying alone.
Always co-champs, never outright winners.
Until the No. 7 Texans (26-2, 12-2) suffocated Texas A&M-Commerce (21-7, 9-5) for a 68-48 win – the 13th straight for Tarleton – to secure sole possession of the LSC regular season crown and the top seed in this week’s LSC Championship in Allen.
Tarleton, the No. 1 team in the South Central Region, begins the tournament against Eastern New Mexico at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Texans have won back-to-back LSC tournaments and are 8-1 all-time in the Allen Event Center.
“This is so very rewarding. We’ve won championships before, and it’s a testament to not only the players and coaches, but also to our fans, our university and this community,” said Reisman after his team cut down the net in front of 2,867 in attendance at Wisdom Gym. “It’s even more rewarding this year because there are so many good teams in our league. It’s almost unreal the talent level of this league right now, and to win this championship at the end of such a tough two-month long grind, is definitely a rewarding feeling.”
Guard Mo Lee matched his career high with 26 points, including hitting 14 of 15 free throws on his senior night at Wisdom Gym. Seniors Davene Carter, Damion Clemons and Mercedes Lane were also honored before securing the league title in their final regular-season home game.
“This is very rewarding because it’s what we’ve worked extremely hard for the entire year,” said Lee, who hit a 3-point buzzer beater to give the Texans a 32-19 lead at halftime. “You work all year just to play for a conference championship, and I’m especially proud with this being our first time to win it outright.”
Lee topped 20 points for the seventh time in 12 games, and Malcolm Hamilton added 13, but the real story for Tarleton was its tenacious defense.
A&M-Commerce scored 33 points less than its average of 81 per game, and standout senior guard LaDon Carnegie was held scoreless, going 0-7 from the floor including 0-6 from behind the arc. Carnegie entered the game averaging 15.9 points, but his only statistic other than five fouls – his fifth was a technical – was a single rebound.
Freshman guard Nosa Ebomwonyi and Hamilton, a junior forward, were the primary defenders against Carnegie, leading a Tarleton effort that limited the Lions to just 31.3 percent shooting including only 11.8 percent from 3-point range.
“We knew Carnegie was a big part of their offense, and that their offense flows through him and Williams,” said Ebomwonyi, who who also scored four points and grabbed five boards. “We knew if we contained at least one of them we had a great chance to win the game.”
Lee may be the team’s most potent offensive threat, but even he says defense is the key for the Texans, who allow just 61 points per game.
“Defense is always what we hang our hat on, every game,” Lee said emphatically. “That’s what we pride ourselves on is our defense.”
Darrell Williams continued to be a monster in the paint for A&M-Commerce, recording his 19th double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. He had 16 points and three boards in the second half. He had only three points in the first half, when Tarleton swarmed three defenders at him every time he touched the ball inside.
“We had to make him earn everything,” said Reisman. “He’s a great player and he’s going to put up big numbers, but you have to make him earn everything. You can’t let him have anything easy.”
Nothing came easy for A&M-Commerce on Sunday, in a game that was delayed 24 hours by winter weather. Just four days earlier, the Lions, the No. 7 team in the South Central Region, defeated the region’s No. 4 and nation’s No. 15 ranked team, Angelo State, 72-68, giving the Texans the opportunity to win the title outright.
“We know they have a very good team. We played great defense tonight and they struggled shooting the ball, but this is a team we could see again next week (perhaps in Friday’s LSC semifinals), and we have to bring the same type of energy and intensity to the floor as we did tonight,” said Reisman. “But that’s true against any team in our league and any team we will face for as long as we are blessed to continue this season.”
Tarleton shared the LSC league-wide regular-season title in 2012 and 2014.. The Texans won the North Division and the tournament in 2004, and also shared the North crown in 2003 and won the South title outright in 2011.
The last team besides Tarleton and Midwestern State to win either a league, division or tournament title in the LSC was Central Oklahoma in 2011, and UCO is no longer in the league. The last time a current member besides Tarleton or MSU won a title was West Texas A&M in the 2006 tournament.
The game itself was never close after a 3-pointer by Hamilton and a one-handed dunk by Damion Clemons ignited a 13-2 run after Tarleton trailed 11-10 early. The Texans led the rest of the way.
A&M-Commerce closed the margin to six briefly, but the Texans scored nine of the final 11 points before halftime, including Lee beating the buzzer to capture all the momentum at the break.
The Lions trailed by at least the 13-point halftime margin throughout the second stanza, and the Texans led by as many as 25 with 3:32 remaining.
Michael Hardge, who had an emphatic second-half put back slam that made the crowd erupt, scored eight points, while Carter and Clemons each had six.
Anthony Adams gave A&M-Commerce a second double-digit scorer with 10, while JR Owens had nine points and seven boards.
There were six technical fouls in the game, four of them on Texas A&M-Commerce. There was a several-minute delay during Tarleton’s big first-half run, as officials reviewed an altercation that resulted in two technicals against TAMUC and one against Tarleton. There was also a double technical in the second half, which ended with Carnegie folding out.
Tarleton has won 11 of its last 12 against the Lions, the only loss coming at TAMUC in final regular season game last year, when Carnegie scored 34. He and Williams combined for 39 on Wednesday.