By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (January 12, 2016) — The basketball rivalry between Tarleton State and Midwestern State has come to mean a great deal to me.
Regardless who wins or loses, the intensity of the rivalry and the success of both programs makes it a must cover and a must read any time these Lone Star Conference rivals meet on the hardwood.
But that’s not all that makes this rivalry stand out to me. It’s guys like Brad Cozart, a Nocona guy and MSU alum whose wife went to Texas Woman’s and their son went to Tarleton. It’s Trey Reed the sports information director at MSU and the Voice of the Mustangs on the radio.
It’s about the late, great Nick Gholson, longtime sports editor of the Wichita Falls Times Record News and a sports journalist respected above all others for yours truly. And, last but not least, it’s about the man who replaced Gholson, Andy Newberry, a career sportswriter and one of the best when it comes to coverage of high school and NCAA Division II sports.
I met Newberry in 2007 at a Rider-Stephenville football game. Our relationship grew from there, particularly after Nick lost his battle with cancer and Andy picked up the MSU men’s basketball beat, among many other new duties.
Newberry and I have a deep appreciation for high-level Division II basketball and we are blessed to cover programs that put quality products on the floor seemingly every season. That’s a testament to Tarleton’s Lonn Reisman and MSU’s Nelson Haggerty, two of the very best in the coaching business.
Newberry’s columns and the entire sports section of the Times News Review is always a great read. You can bet I’ll be grabbing me the Wednesday edition on my way to the LSC doubleheader between Tarleton and MSU. Follow @andy_newberry for another perspective on the Tarleton-MSU showdown that looms ahead and for all things MSU and Wichita Falls area sports.
Newberry and I spent part of our Tuesday afternoon “discussing” (with use of modern technology) Tarleton, MSU, the rivalry and the current teams that meet in an all top 10 showdown at 7:30 p.m Wednesday inside D.L. Ligon Coliseum in Wichita Falls (The doubleheader begins with the women’s teams at 5:30 p.m.).
We hope you enjoy our commentary as much as we did:
What’s the first thing that stands out about this Tarleton State team?
BK: The first thing you see when they hit the court is their athleticism. It’s what powers their ability to play such strong defense and to play above the rim. In that regard, they aren’t different from past Tarleton teams, holding opponents to 63.1 points per game.
Thing that stands out most about Mustangs?
AN: The major improvement in 3-point shooting. It was a sore spot a year ago outside of Bretson McNeal, but newcomers Brandon Golden (.406) and Sheldon Hagigal (.359) plus Hershell Grant, whose shot looks different than most, has made 12 of 23. McNeal still not a guy to leave open, either.
Most consistent players on each side?
AN: For MSU it’s Khapri Alston who challenges for a double-double every night. Even more than the numbers it’s his timing as several times when a team has threatened late the Mustangs simply went to their best option down the stretch to close it out, Mariano Rivera-style.
BK: Definitely EJ Reed for Tarleton. He’s the leading scorer and rebounder in the conference and has eight double-doubles. He’s fouled out three times, but even while dealing with foul trouble in Kingsville collected 17 points and eight boards.
Who are the throw-out-the-numbers glue guys who you expect to deliver big plays?
AN: I couldn’t believe Michael Hardge’s shooting percentage (36.9). I wouldn’t want him with an open shot to win it if I’m MSU. Reserves DeVaughn Jones and Pat Smith have earned Haggerty’s trust to make key plays down the stretch. Jones can have a perfect 6-of-6 game out of nowhere and Smith, the backup point, is the most improved player on the team.
BK: No doubt, Nosa Ebomwonyi. Still a defensive force, the big guard has had a case of the sophomore slumps offensively, but lately has hit some big threes. And you hit the nail on the head with Hardge, who despite the numbers seems to be the guy delivering the big assist or shot when it matters most. And back at you, Andy, on Pat Smith, I’ve been hearing good things about his improvements from my ‘MSU guys.’
Most likely “other” guys to step up and be a hero?
BK: I mentioned Deshawn Riddick or Xavier Smith coming off the bench, and this could be one of them on any given night. Both came in to hit big late 3-pointers that saved the Texans on an otherwise sluggish night in Kingsville Saturday. Chantz Chambers is a guard who has been fighting a twisted ankle recently but is a stud athlete who has been to nationals in the long jump, so watch for him.
AN: Hagigal probably was a critical to victory as anyone at WT with 13 points in nine first-half minutes. Hershell Grant doesn’t score a lot but can make a difference in the Derrell Gibbs’ role.
What record is it going to take to win the LSC?
AN: I think I’ll rule out 14-0, perfection would shock me. It feels like 12-2 is enough to win but I’d give Wednesday’s winner a chance to go 13-1 even in a really tough conference that didn’t get any easier in 2016.
BK: I’m with you on 12-2 and I think that’s the best it will be. So many landmines out there with seven of the eight teams in the league able to beat you any given night. The parity is tremendous, so I could even see it being 11-3.
What’s your most memorable Tarleton-MSU rivalry game?
AN: I’m going to have to cheat and name two. Favorite one I covered was the Monzaigo Williams’ game-winner in Stephenville, beating the Texans 77-75 in OT. Williams had a chance to force overtime in a loss at D.L. Ligon and some chances to put away that Texans but went 0-of-4 in the second half that night in Stephenville. He found his redemption with a tough 19-footer to win in OT. My other favorite I didn’t cover but watched from the stands as the teams needed three OTs to decide it, MSU 80, Tarleton State 75. Had to blame the missed curfew on Fabian Wilson, the Texans’ big man who hit a 3 late in regulation and played 50 strong minutes.
BK: Can I cheat even more and list about 10? Kidding, but this rivalry is insane. Even with MSU winning, the games Andy mentioned were so good I enjoyed just being there to witness them. In fact, the triple overtime game in Wichita Falls was so good I remember heading south all the way to Jacksboro before it sunk in that Tarleton had suffered a loss, because my thoughts had been so focused on what a great competition I had just seen. But from a Tarleton perspective, two recent games certainly stand out. Coleman Furst buried a corner 3-pointer to lift the Texans to a 53-50 win in the 2013 LSC Championship final in Allen, and of course the 2014 LSC final when All-America point guard Chuck Guy drove and kicked out to De’Andre Upchurch for the triple that sealed a 71-65 Tarleton win. Those 2014 teams met four times. Each won twice. The score was 292-292.