By BRAD KEITH
Photos by RUSSELL HUFFMAN
STEPHENVILLE (March 14, 2015) — No. 1 seed Tarleton State was the first favorite to win in the South Central Region Championship it is hosting Saturday.
The Texans, regular season champs in the Lone Star Conference, made their first 11 shot attempts in the second half, turning a 9-point edge at intermission into a blowout that ended up 71-52.
Tarleton faces Colorado-Colorado Springs or Colorado School of Mines at 7:30 Sunday night, with the championship set for 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Davene Carter had the highest-scoring half of his career with 15 before the break, 10 of those on slam dunks. He finished with 21 on 10-11 shooting, while Mo Lee scored 15. Michael Hardge and Malcolm Hamilton each scored 12, with all of Hamilton’s coming after halftime.
The torrid shooting to begin the second half pushed Tarleton over the 60 percent mark for the game before finishing at 55.1. Behind Carter’s big numbers, Tarleton outscored St. Mary’s 40-22 in the paint.
“I thought our guys really played hard tonight and executed our game plan defensively and did what we could offensively,” said Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman, the 18th winningest coach all-time in NCAA Division II. “There is a lot of pressure hosting this thing because of the expectations that come with playing at home. I’m proud of our players, the way they handled it and for getting through to the next round.”
Tarleton used an 8-0 run – four each by Carter and Lee – to grab an early 10-3 lead, and never trailed again.
St. Mary’s cut its deficit to 22-19 before the Texans scored seven straight on their way to a 30-21 halftime advantage.
The Texans scored another seven straight to begin the second half with, who else, Carter and Lee hitting the first four before a 3-pointer by Hardge. A 6-0 run moments later included a pair of dunks by Clemons and ended any remaining doubt concerning the outcome.
Tarleton finished the game with just eight turnovers, matching its second lowest total of the season.
“You have to take care of the ball in big games like this, especially since they out-rebounded us, because that kind of canceled it out,” said Reisman.
The Texans, ranked seventh nationally, also had 15 assists on 27 made baskets en rout to their 15th win in 16 games.
“I think we shared the ball pretty well tonight, but that’s our team,” said Lee, a second-team Daktronics all-region selection and first-team All-Lone Star Conference pick. “We all want to share the ball to get open shots.”
Leading St. Mary’s was Marvin Binney with 12 points and Ryan Thomas with 10.
Tarleton hosted St. Mary’s early in the season and won 75-64, and leads its all-time series with the Rattlers 12-4 including 3-0 in the NCAA playoffs. The Texans have never faced Colorado Springs or Colorado Mines.
Tarleton improved to 16-11 all-time in the NCAA tournament. The Texans are 15-9 in regional tournament play, having reached regionals in 12 of the past 14 seasons.