By BRAD KEITH
ALLEN (March 5, 2015) — Tarleton State has been eliminated in the opening round of the Lone Star Conference Championship for the first time since 2009. And now the real tension begins.
Sitting eighth in this week’s South Central Regional rankings, the TexAnns will have to wait until Sunday night’s Division II playoff selection show to see if they survive as an at-large team or if their bubble will burst. Fans can watch along at Wisdom Gym Sunday at 9 p.m.
Texas Woman’s overcame a 10-0 run by fourth-seeded Tarleton to start the second half, responding to lead by as many 10 down the stretch in a 70-62 win that sends the fifth-seeded Pioneers to the tournament semifinals to face top seed West Texas A&M.
But the game was even closer than the final score indicated. Tarleton overcame a six-point halftime deficit by scoring the first 10 points of the second half for a 32-28 lead, then TWU scored six consecutive for a 34-32 edge. That was just the beginning of the back-and-forth action.
There were a dozen ties and another dozen lead changes, including seven ties and six lead changes in the second half.
“I think the difference is they made three more shots than we did. That was the only difference in the game,” said Misty Wilson, the winningest first-year head coach at Tarleton since the school joined the NCAA in 1994. “The turnover battle was the same, the rebounding was almost the same, they just made more shots than us.”
But the final stats showed a 38-31 rebounding edge for the Pioneers, who shot 46.3 percent to 39.3 percent by the TexAnns. TWU scored 34 points in the paint to Tarleton’s 26, but even though each team had 19 turnovers, Tarleton converted more of them in to buckets with a 22-14 edge in points off those takeaways.
Texas Woman’s coach Beth Jillson said she emphasized the inside game entering the contest. Her team responded with Division I transfers Emily Spector and Erin Maxwell combining for 28 points on a combined 12-19 shooting.
“We didn’t feel like they had the size we do inside, so that was a big emphasis for us was to get the ball inside,” Jillson said. “I probably sounded like a broken record and made them sick of me saying it over and over – ‘Get the ball inside, get the ball inside.’”
The TexAnns were led by Ikpeaku Iwobi with 17 points and 11 rebounds, the 11th career double-double and ninth this season for the sophomore forward. Kathy Thomas scored 11 points while dishing four assists and swiping four steals. The senior guard knocked down a 3-pointer from the left wing to begin the 10-0 Tarleton run at the start of the second half. It was her only trey of the night, but enough to make her just the ninth TexAnn to hit 100 3-pointers in a career.
Tarleton led as late as the 5:57 mark of the second half when a hard-driving layup by Raven McGrath made it 51-50.
That’s when A&M-Commerce took over, scoring 10 of the next 12 for a 60-53 lead with 2:56 left. It was the largest lead for either team to that point, but it would get even larger.
Four straight points by Ikpeaku Iwobi cut it to a three-point margin with 1:55 still to go before seven straight by Commerce for a 67-57 advantage. Ashley Salazar hit four straight free throws during the run, all her scoring for the night.
It’s on the second time in the 32-year history of the rivalry that Texas Woman’s has defeated Tarleton twice in the same season. During the regular season, TWU won 63-54 in Denton before Tarleton edged the Pioneers 82-76 in overtime in Stephenville. Tarleton leads the all-time series 28-13.
Tarleton could get no closer than eight down the stretch, and now must wait three days to learn whether its season will continue.
“Go Arkansas-Fort Smith first of all,” said Wilson regarding the team the TexAnns likely need to win the Heartland Conference Championship tournament to avoid being bounced from the No. 8 spot in the region. “We just have to keep coming in every day to work and get better. When you’re a bubble team, that’s what it’s about. We’ll continue to work until they tell us we can’t anymore. With 17 wins in this league and some of the teams we had to go through to get there, I do think we deserve to get in.”