By BRAD KEITH
WICHITA FALLS (March 15, 2016) — Tarleton State is elite again.
For the fourth time in 12 years. In a league with more than 300 member teams.
Tarleton (24-8) scored six straight points to break a 62-62 tie, taking control in a 77-72 victory over Lone Star Conference rival Angelo State (25-6) in the final of the South Central Region Men’s Basketball Championship at D.L. Ligon Coliseum Tuesday evening.
Tarleton will be the only team returning from last year’s crop of Elite Eight teams. The Texans also reached the Elite Eight in 2005 and 2006. The Texans were in their sixth Sweet 16 in 14 years, improving to 4-2 in regional finals.
Romond Jenkins was named MVP of the tournament after 10 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots, his second double-double at the event and fourth in five games. The big center grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast for a layup and a 66-62 lead moments after a driving layup by Chantz Chambers put the Texans ahead for good.
Then it really got fun.
Michael Hardge drove and tossed the ball up for Malcolm Hamilton, who smashed down the alley-oop for a 68-62 advantage. Tarleton eventually matched its largest lead at 71-64 following a pair of free throws by Chambers, who scored 13. Hardge had 16 with four assists, but the leading scorer was Hamilton with 17 to go with seven boards.
Before Tarleton could celebrate the hard-earned victory, it had to overcome about as rough a start as one could imagine to the second half.
Angelo State did not hit a field goal over the first seven minutes of the second, but knocked down eight straight free throws, four of them on two technical fouls – one on Jenkins, the other on the Tarleton bench – for a 44-40 advantage.
But then came the biggest run of the night, a 13-2 blitz that began with putbacks by Jenkins and Hamilton. Charles Hill and Chantz Chambers each knocked down 3-pointers during the run, which pushed Tarleton ahead 53-46.
Tarleton shot 50 percent from the floor and was 7-22 – 32 percent – from the arc. The Texans were just 14-24 – 58 percent – from the foul stripe, but made up for it by dominating the backboards, 43-32.
ASU was led by Tre Bennett with 21 points. He was 8-9 from the free throw line, where the Rams were a strong 15-17. Quay King scored 16 and Prince Foster 13.
The Rams attempted more 3-pointers – 35 – than 2-pointers – 27. They made 11 triples, hitting 31 percent from deep, and shot 37 percent for the game.
The game was deadlocked at halftime, 38-38, thanks to an inside finish by Hamilton off an assist from Reed with 10 seconds on the clock.
Bennett drilled a shot from half court with 0.9 seconds left in the half, but he was whistled for stepping backcourt before releasing the shot.
The biggest highlight of the opening half came on another eye-popping pass by Hardge – a behind-the-back bullet to a wide open Chambers, who buried a left corner 3-pointer.
Hardge had 12 at the break and Hamilton 11. ASU was led in the first King with eight.
TheFlashToday.com photos by RUSSELL HUFFMAN
Photos courtesy Dr. CHET MARTIN