By BRAD KEITH
(January 9, 2016) — No. 9 Tarleton State overcame its worst offensive performance, it’s star player fouling out and its first true road test of the season Saturday night, fending off upset-minded Lone Star Conference rival Texas A&M-Kingsville, 50-47, at the Steinke Center.
EJ Reed scored 15 points in the second half and 17 while also collecting eight rebounds over 23 total minutes. Foul trouble may have been all that stopped the senior forward from having a huge night, as he sat out much of the first half and fouled out with two minutes remaining in the game.
Xavier Smith and Deshawn Riddick came off the bench to hit the biggest shots of the game, however, and the Texans needed both of them to hang on. Smith hit a straightaway 3-pointer to open up a 46-39 lead, and when the Javelinas cut it to three moments later, Riddick buried a long ball just as the shot clock expired for a 49-43 advantage in the final minute.
Riddick scored a season-best 14, just one shy of his career high. The sophomore guard had nine in the second half.
Tarleton gave Texas A&M-Kingsville every chance to pull off a stunning comeback, including senior team captain Michael Hardge missing a pair of free throws in the closing seconds. But a 3-point attempt at the buzzer was off the mark for the Javelinas, and Tarleton held on.
Reed and fellow starters Malcolm Hamilton and Chares Hill each got into early foul trouble in the first half, and Tarleton couldn’t get any traction offensively before the intermission. But Reed showed why he leads the conference in scoring and rebounding after the break, beginning with five straight points to give Tarleton a 23-22 lead early in the half.
That came after an especially poor first half on the offensive end that left Tarleton trailing 22-18. The Texans shot only 21 percent in the first half including just 10 percent from the 3-point arc. They turned it around in the second half, hitting 50 percent from the floor and 3-4 from 3-point range, but it wasn’t enough to please an upset veteran head coach.
“I’m very disappointed in a lot of aspects of our game and very disappointed in some of our players,” said Lonn Reisman, who topped 600 wins at Tarleton during his club’s ongoing four-game win streak. They have won five straight and 12 of their last 13 against the Javelinas.
Even when considering it was the first true road contest for his team against an opponent that was previously 4-0 at home, the winningest active college coach in Texas did not budge.
“That’s just an excuse and great teams aren’t supposed to make excuses,” said Reisman.
Troy Jones collected 13 points and seven boards while DJ Weathers and Cris Boleware each added 11 to lead Texas A&M-Kingsville.
The win sets up what will be the second all top 10 showdown in as many weeks and the fifth in the last two seasons for Tarleton, which visits No. 6 Midwestern State Wednesday. Tipoff is about 7:30 p.m. at D.L. Ligon Coliseum in Wichita Falls, following a 5:30 p.m. women’s contest.
Tarleton has beaten each of the last four top 10 teams it has faced, including then-No. 4 Angelo State during the regular season last year, No. 10 Colorado-Colorado Springs during the South Central Region Championship, No. 9 Mount Olive (NC) in the Elite Eight quarterfinal and No. 4 ASU earlier this week at Wisdom Gym.
The most recent of those, an 85-67 domination of previously unbeaten ASU, is why Reisman was so upset – despite the win – following Saturday’s game.
“If you can play that way Wednesday, you can play that way Saturday,” Reisman said. “We have to be consistent if we want to win this conference.”