By BRAD KEITH
WICHITA FALLS (March 13, 2016) — EJ Reed and Michael Hardge hit back-to-back 3-pointers to break open a tie game midway through the second half and Tarleton State never looked back in a 69-63 victory over Lubbock Christian to advance to the final of the South Central Region Championship for the sixth time in the last 14 years.
Reed hit from the left wing and Hardge from the top of the key, giving Tarleton a 48-42 lead. Chantz Chambers attacked for an acrobatic ‘And-1,’ adding the free throw for a game-high seven-point advantage that would soon grow.
Malcolm Hamilton was next up in the 3-point barrage, hitting from the right wing to open up a 54-44 lead, and Romond Jenkins slammed down a put-back then made two free throw to make it 59-46. Lubbock Christian got no close than eight again until the final seconds at D.L. Ligon Coliseum.
Tarleton had four double-digit scorers led by Hardge with 18. Hamilton, Chambers and Reed each had 10, while Jenkins tallied eight points and 10 boards. Charles Hill scored nine off the bench.
The fourth-seeded Texans (23-8) had to fight off 12 points each from A.J. Luckey and Tyler Rogers. Eighth-seeded LCU (21-9) was coming off a stunning upset of top seed and host Midwestern State, 79-73 in overtime, on Saturday.
Tarleton shot 54 percent, including 47 percent from outside the arc, where Hardge was 2-for-3 and Hamilton a perfect 2-for-2. The Texans are 5-0 all-time against LCU.
Nine turnovers plagued Tarleton in the first half after just seven the entire way in a 83-61 rout of Colorado Mines Saturday night. The Texans were also just 3-7 from the line and trailed 33-30 at intermission.
Each team shot 52 percent from the field in the first half, but LCU had just four turnovers. Rogers scored 10 before the break and big man Isaac Cardona scored nine, stepping out for two early 3-pointers moments before an ‘And-1’ to give LCU its first lead. Cardona was scoreless after intermission.
Reed and Hill each had seven in the first half for Tarleton, which again saw Jakob Damstra step up with a put back and three boards while Jenkins sat with two early fouls.
Tarleton and ASU meet for the fourth time in a season for the second straight year. The third-seeded Rams defeated second-seeded Fort Lewis College (Colo.) in the earlier semifinal Sunday, 87-66. The Rams outscored Fort Lewis 53-26 to wipe out a narrow halftime deficit.
Tarleton has lost just twice over its last eight games, both to ASU. The Rams edged the Texans, 87-86, in San Angelo on Feb. X, and 81-73 last week in the semifinals of the Lone Star Conference Championship in Allen.
Tarleton improved to 6-4 in second-round games in the NCAA Division II Championship. Lubbock Christian reached the regional tournament in its first year of Division II eligibility after making the transition from the NAIA.
Tarleton is 3-2 in regional finals. Angelo State’s first regional final appearance was last season, when the Texans won, 68-66, to reach their third Elite Eight.
TheFlashToday.com photos by RUSSELL HUFFMAN