By BRAD KEITH
ALLEN (March 6, 2015) — The 14 game win streak is over, and so is Tarleton State’s push for a third straight title in the Lone Star Conference Championship.
LSC Player of the Year Darrell Williams scored 20 points and collected 14 rebound Friday as Texas A&M-Commerce (23-7) held Tarleton (27-3) to a season low in scoring and defeated the Texans 53-51 in a tournament semifinal at Allen Event Center, where Tarleton had won seven straight games dating back to the 2012 final.
LSC regular-season champ and top-seeded Tarleton failed to reach the final of the tournament for the first time since 2009. No. 4-seed A&M-Commerce faces No. 2 Angelo State in the championship at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Both teams played very hard tonight and it was a tale of two halves. We came back to take the lead, then they took the lead again, then we had a shot to win the ball game,” said 27th year Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman, who has led the Texans to three titles in this tournament. “That’s what you’re looking for in championship play, and it just didn’t go our way.”
Tarleton, ranked seven nationally, climbed out of a 41-30 hole with 14-2 run over a span of seven minutes, 21 seconds to take a 44-43 lead on three Mo Lee free throws with 7:48 remaining. True freshmen Nosa Ebomwonyi and Deshawn Riddick and junior point guard Mike Hardge each had 3-pointers during the run.
TAMUC answered with a layup by LaDon Carnegie, who scored 12 points and had three steals just six days after being shut out when Tarleton dominated the Lions 68-48 at Wisdom Gym in Stephenville. It was just the fourth field goal of the second half by A&M-Commerce and proved to be their final one of the game.
But the Lions were hot from the free throw line, going 15-19 (78.9 percent) for the game including 8-10 over the final seven minutes. Williams was 10-11 at the stripe, the rest of the team 5-8. TAMUC scored just 18 points in the second half.
Davene Carter tied the game at 46-46 on a ferocious put-back slam with 4:58 remaining, but Carnegie hit a pair from the line 18 seconds later.
Hamilton got free off a screen by Carter and drove in for another dunk to even the score again with 4:22 left, and after three-straight TAMUC free throws, the junior guard scored a layup for the Texans, who then trailed 51-50 with 2:21 remaining.
Williams, who set a conference tournament record with 21 rebounds while scoring 25 points in a quarterfinal victory over West Texas A&M Thursday, hit his fourth and fifth consecutive free throws to finish the Lions’ scoring, then Mo Lee hit 1-2 for Tarleton to make it a 2-point game with 59 seconds to go.
Hardge blocked a pull-up 15 foot jumper by Anthony Adams with 28 seconds left, and Hamilton grabbed the rebound.
Tarleton almost threw it away at the other end, with Mo Lee trying a long bounce pass along the baseline that was picked off by J.R. Owens who couldn’t stay in bounds. The Texans called timeout with eight seconds left, then put the game in the hands of Mo Lee, who has delivered time and again during the now defunct win streak.
Lee took the ball near the half court line with time ticking away, then stepped up and launched a near 26 foot 3-point attempt for the win. It caromed off the left side of the rim and Owens atoned for stepping out of bounds by grabbing the rebound as the final two seconds ran off the clock.
It was the end of a tough night for Lee, who was just 1-5 from the floor including 1-3 from the arc. He was 4-5 from the stripe and finished with seven points and four assists.
“That was a huge emphasis, we really geared into him and guarded him differently than we did the first two times (both Tarleton wins),” said TAMUC head coach Sam Walker, who defeated Tarleton for only the second time in the last 13 meetings. “We made quite a few adjustments today, and I thought our team did a really good job of doing things we hadn’t done all year – forcing ball screens down to the baseline and setting over the top. Maybe that made them a little uncomfortable and took them out of their rhythm, which you have to do because nobody in our conference takes people out of their rhythm better than Tarleton State.”
EJ Reed was Tarleton’s only double-digit scorer with 12 of his 15 in the first half. The Texans needed his scoring burst just to stay in the game early. Reed was 4-7 from the floor in the opening half, the rest of the team just 4-13.
“I felt like we didn’t play as well the first half. We had some open shots, they just weren’t falling,” said Reed. “We just kept our heads up and tried to improve in the second half, execute the game plan a little more and try to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
Williams had 11 in the first half and Carnegie eight for TAMUC, as the Lions led 35-25 at intermission. Tarleton overcame a slow start offensively to lead 21-17 after a Lee 3-pointer with 5:42 on the clock, but TAMUC took control with the next 16 points.
The Lions were 6-9 from 3-point range during the first half, hitting four of those long balls – two by Carnegie – during the big run.
Tarleton shot a respectable 40 percent for the game, better than the 37.2 percent by the Lions. But TAMUC won the rebounding battle, 31-26, with no Tarleton player grabbing more than four boards. Tarleton’s previous scoring low came in a 58-53 win at Midwestern State on February 4.
The Texans entered the tournament as the top team in the South Central Region, but that is now up in the air with regional No. 2 Metro State-Denver winning its Rocky Mountain Athletic semifinal over Colorado State-Pueblo Friday. Metro State faces Colorado-Colorado Springs, a team it edged 74-73 last weekend, in the RMAC tourney final on Saturday.
Metro State has hosted each of the last two regionals. Tarleton last hosted a regional in 2008.
Reisman stated his case for hosting the regional during his post game press conference.
“We are 27-3 and in Division II we are (23-3). We’ve had a good schedule, we’ve beaten some very good teams, no doubt about that,” said Reisman. “There are some teams in this league that are outstanding, and the Lone Star conference top to bottom is outstanding. I would put it up against any conference in the country right now.”
The numbers back him up. The Lone Star Conference has four 20-win teams for the first time in at least 17 years and is No. 1 conference in power rankings published by Bennett Rank.
“We beat Drury (Mo.) who won the national championship a couple years ago, Western Washington who won the national championship a few years ago, we beat St. Mary’s that won the Heartland (Conference) and we beat a good Pittsburg State team. We’ve had an outstanding schedule, now we just have to wait to see what they say Sunday night.”
Both Tarleton teams will be watching the NCAA Division II Championship Selection Show at Wisdom Gym Sunday. Fans are welcome free of charge with doors opening at 8:30 p.m. and the show starting at 9 p.m.