By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (February 13, 2016) — There were no smiles, no little celebrations after every little play.
Tarleton was scowling. Tarleton was angry.
And Texas A&M-Kingsville paid the price.
On the heels of a heartbreaking 87-86 double overtime loss at Angelo State Wednesday night, Tarleton (17-7, 6-5) returned home to Wisdom Gym and returned to its dominating ways, crushing the Javelinas (10-12, 2-9) 30-12 over the opening 12 minutes en route to a 76-63 victory.
It wast the sixth straight win for the Texans in the series with A&M-Kingsville, their seventh straight over the Javelinas at home. TAMUK last won in Stephenville on January 14, 2009.
Tarleton struggled when the teams met in Kingsville, needing a second-half rally to win, 50-47, in its lowest-scoring game of the season.
But many teams struggle in Kingsville. Many more struggle at Wisdom Gym.
The Javelinas shot just 30 percent against that angry Tarleton defense, and the Texans won the battle of the backboards, 45-37. Tarleton also committed just 14 turnovers, and has lost just once when that number is under 15.
“We’re treating this like a four-game season starting tonight, which is exactly what it is for us,” said Tarleton veteran head coach Lonn Reisman. “We took care of business tonight, so it’s down to a three-game season and let’s focus just on Wednesday night. That’s the biggest game of the season right now because it’s the only one we can control.”
Senior point guard Mike Hardge joined elite Tarleton company with his first point of the night. The Georgetown product is only the third Texan all-time to accumulate 850 points, 300 assists, 200 rebounds and 110 steals in a career. The other two are Tarleton Athletic Hall of Fame members Mark Smith (1988-92) Ryan Huntley (1995-99).
Tarleton, alone in fifth but just one game out of a three-way tie for second in the loaded Lone Star Conference, was led by EJ Reed with 19 points and eight boards. Hardge scored 12 while dealing four assists.
“I feel like as a team we played well but lost in double overtime Wednesday and that was tough,” said Reed, who scored 26 in the loss at ASU. “That can be hard to come off of, but I felt like we have kept our chemistry together and come even closer as a team.”
Malcolm Hamilton scored 11 and had four assists – three for alley-oop dunks – after tallying 12 points at ASU Wednesday. It’s the first time the senior has reached double figures in back-to-back games since the opening week of January.
Romond Jenkins collected 10 boards for the third time of the season, but fouled out with nine points, one shy of his first career double-double. Sophomore Nosa Ebomwonyi scored eight of his season-high nine before halftime.
Talented post player Troy Jones had 14 points and seven boards for A&M-Kingsville, all after halftime. He picked up two fouls in the opening moments of the game and sat on the bench the rest of the first half. He played in spurts in the second half, scoring seven points then leaving after his third foul. He checked out again after his fourth, when Tarleton led 62-48 with 7:46 to go.
Jones came back for most of the final four minutes, joining their offensive-defensive substitutions. The Javelinas pulled within nine briefly, but Tarleton hit five of its final six free throws to close the door. The Texans were 24-33 from the line for the game.
“One thing about Johnny Estelle’s teams is they will never quit, we know that,” said Reisman. “They never quit tonight, they just kept coming and coming and we did enough to hold on.”
A&M-Kingsville was 15-26 from the 3-point arc in a home upset of Texas A&M-Commerce Wednesday, but just 5-25 from deep at Tarleton.
Tarleton hits the road Wednesday for a 8:30 p.m. (CST) battle at Eastern New Mexico. ENMU allowed 110 points to Midwestern State at Greyhound Arena on Saturday.
Photos courtesy CHET MARTIN