By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (March 23, 2016) — There are 303 schools in NCAA Division II, and the field of 64 teams earning automatic access and invitations to the Division II Men’s Basketball Championship has been whittled to just eight.
Eight elite teams. Eight regional champions.
Only one of those – Tarleton State – is back from last season. The Texans will also have the honor of becoming the only Texas team to compete in an Elite Eight tournament in the Lone Star State, as Frisco and its Dr Pepper Arena bring the event to Texas for the first time.
Below, The Flash takes you through Tarleton’s season game-by-game:
Nov. 13 || Colorado-Colorado Springs || 75-66 Win || EJ Reed and Malcolm Hamilton each scored 21 points and Tarleton shot 50 percent from the floor to win its third straight season-opener, this one between teams that met in the semifinal round of the 2015 South Central Region Championship. Tarleton had a 21-0 run in the first half, and was ahead 34-17 at intermission in their third straight win in a season opener.
Nov. 14 || Adams State || 84-77 Win || Charles Hill scored 24 points and Tarleton outscored Adams State 26-7 from the foul stripe to shrug off 34 points by Adams star Shakir Smith. The Texans had four double digit scorers and won despite allowing the Grizzlies to knock down 14 3-point field goals.
Nov. 18 || Delta State || 80-71 Win || For the second straight game, the opponent had a player top 30 points at Wisdom Gym, and for the second straight game, Tarleton won anyway. EJ Reed poured in 17 points while guards Michael Hardge and Charles Hill combined for 35, enough for the Texans to overcome the 31-point explosion of Delta All-American Devin Schmidt. DSU became the second straight opponent to hit 14 triples against Tarleton, which outscored an opponent 26-7 from the free throw line for the second straight game.
Nov. 21 || Bacone || 116-49 Win || NAIA Bacone was no match for a balanced Tarleton effort that featured seven double-digit scorers led by EJ Reed with 23. Tarleton shot 54 percent from the floor and hit 15 triples, outscoring Bacone 45-21 from deep and 29-8 from the stripe.
Nov. 27 || Colorado State-Pueblo || 87-84 OT Loss || Tarleton came from behind late to force overtime but ultimately suffered its first loss to CSUP, which had five players in double figures and a sixth with nine points. The Texans were led by EJ Reed with 22 points, but were outscored 33-15 from the arc.
Nov. 28 || Ouachita Baptist || 88-71 W || Tarleton shot 58 percent from the field and 84 percent from the foul stripe, with four double-digit scorers presenting too much balance for OBU to handle. EJ Reed scored 19 points to lead the way for the Texans.
Dec. 1 || Arlington Baptist College || 97-46 W || Tarleton had two 20-point scorers for the second time of the season, with EJ Reed pouring in 25 and Malcolm Hamilton 22. The Texans knocked down 51 percent from the floor – 57 percent after halftime – and out-rebounded ABC, 36-21.
Dec. 5 || Our Lady of the Lake || 82-73 W || Tarleton shot 56 percent and EJ Reed was 9-11 from the floor and 7-8 from the line for 25 points. The Texans out-boarded OTTL, 40-21, and were never seriously threatened after building a 37-25 lead at intermission.
Dec. 14 || Texas-Permian Basin || 74-58 W || Tarleton held UTPB more than 30 points below its season scoring average to that point, while shooting 52 percent from the floor on the other end. EJ Reed scored 17 to lead four in double-digits for the Texans, while UTPB was led by Johnnie Lacy with 24. Lacy and Cody Hatcher – 6-9, 15 points – combined to go 14-22 from the floor, while other UTPB players combined to hit just 5-34.
Dec. 18 || Rollins College || 73-51 W || Michael Hardge racked up 21 points and Charles Hill added 18 while the Tarleton State defense limited Rollins to just 35 percent shooting in the first of two games in the Division II South Point Holiday Hoops Classic in Las Vegas. Tarleton had this one in the bag early with a 37-21 lead at halftime, thanks largely to what ended up as a 44-30 advantage n the boards.
Dec. 19 || Drury || 68-67 L || Michael Hardge drilled a corner 3-pointer for a 67-66 Tarleton lead with just 20 seconds remaining, but Drury drew a foul while attacking the paint in the final seconds, and two free throws made the difference as Tarleton turned the ball over on its final possession. EJ Reed and Charles Hill scored 15 each, but Kameron Bundy had 24 points to lead four Panthers in double figures.
Dec. 31 || Southeastern Oklahoma State || 81-55 Win || EJ Reed scored 20 and Michael Hardge added 18 for the Texans, who outscored SOSU by 13 in each half of a game that was never in question. TSU dominated the backboards, 44-31, and outscored SOSU 44-16 in the paint.
Jan. 2 || Cameron || 71-61 Win || Lonn Reisman became the sixth active head coach in NCAA Division II and the 16th all time to record 600 career wins. Charles Hill and EJ Reed each scored 19 to pace the Texans, and Reed also collected 12 boards for a double-double. A 23-10 advantage from the free throw line made the biggest difference.
Jan. 6 || Angelo State || 85-67 Win || Tarleton won its fourth straight against a top 10 opponent, and the Texans did it by dominating in the paint with a 49-31 rebounding advantage and a 38-20 spring margin inside. ASU was averaging north of 90 points entering the game, but was coming off an 18-day layoff. Malcolm Hamilton was in full aggression mode, attacking the basket and scoring 24 points while going 10-15 from the floor. Tre Bennett scored 20 for ASU.
Jan. 9 || Texas A&M-Kingsville || 50-47 Win || In its first true road contest of the season, Tarleton shot just 35 percent from the field and 50 percent from the foul stripe. It’s defense carried it to victory, however, limiting TAMUK to just 30 percent from the floor. EJ Reed led all scorers with 17.
Jan. 13 || Midwestern State || 66-63 Loss || Deshawn Riddick just missed on a potential game-tying 3-point attempt as time expired, as the No. 4 Mustangs held on to snap Tarleton’s four-game win streak and its four-game win streak over top 10 opponents. Tarleton led by 10 early in the second half before suffering a prolonged scoring drought in the face of MSU’s vaunted defense. Charles Hill of Tarleton led all scorers with 25, but the Texans shot just 36 percent.
Jan. 20 || Eastern New Mexico || 89-71 Win || Tarleton shot a blistering hot 60 percent from the floor and had five double-digit scorers led by Charles Hill with 22. Javaan Mumtaz scored 20 to lead the Greyhounds. Tarleton led 40-30 by halftime and was never threatened the rest of the way.
Jan. 23 || West Texas A&M || 78-61 Loss || In perhaps its ugliest outing of the season, Tarleton shot just 36 percent, including going only 3-24 (13 percent) from outside the arc. WTAMU didn’t exactly light it up as a team at 39 percent, but Jordan Evans did, going 7-8 from the floor including a perfect 6-6 from the arc and 10-10 from the stripe to score 30 points.
Jan. 27 || Southwestern Adventist || 113-50 Win || Tarleton scored a season-high 62 points in the second half and EJ Reed led five double-digit scorers with 24 in a blowout. Tarleton shot 60 percent and out-boarded lowly Southwestern Adventist, 50-24, while outscoring them 72-14 in the paint.
Jan. 30 || Texas A&M-Commerce || 67-65 Loss || TAMUC went 5-6 from the foul stripe to grab the late lead, and Anthony Adams stole the ball away from Michael Hardge in the final seconds to clinch the TAMUC road win at Wisdom Gym. Tarleton dug itself out of a 37-25 halftime hole and took a 64-62 lead on a Deshawn Riddick 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining, but the Texans shot just 40 percent at home and were outscored 23-14 from the foul stripe. Jeremy Jones of TAMUC led all scorers with 24.
Feb. 3 || Midwestern State || 66-65 Win || Michael Hardge went coast-to-coast for the game winning layup with less than three seconds remaining, and Jordan Stevens was off the mark with a 3-point try at the buzzer for Midwestern. It was the ninth straight game between these rivals to be determined by six points or less. Reed led Tarleton with 15 points and nine boards, and the Texans overcame a 23-point effort by Khapri Alston of MSU. The Texans had to also overcome going just 10-22 form the free throw line, where the Mustangs were an impressive 14-16.
Feb. 6 || Cameron || 73-57 Loss || Deondre Ray scored 20 and Jamaal Brantley 19 for Cameron, which outscored Tarleton by 12 over the final 10 minutes. The Aggies shot 50 percent on their home floor and held Tarleton to just 35percent. The most head scratching stat was Tarleton having typically one of its biggest advantages – rebounding – turned against them. Cameron won the boards, 38-25.
Feb. 10 || Angelo State || 87-86 2OT Loss || Tarleton saw a 16-point lead slip away in regulation and squandered a 7-point lead in overtime when Quay King of ASU, while falling out of bounds after collecting a long rebound along the sideline, threw in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to force a second overtime. Michael Hardge was rejected and EJ Reed scooped up the loose ball for the Texans in the closing seconds of double overtime, but Reed’s short put back rimmed out and ASU held on. Reed scored 26 points and Tarleton shot 42 percent. The Rams shot 41 percent at home and had five double-digit scorers.
Feb 13 || Texas A&M-Kingsville || 76-63 Win || TSU jumped out to a 41-26 halftime lead and coasted to an easy home win behind 19 points from EJ Reed. Tarleton shot 49 percent while limiting the Javelinas to just 30 percent for the second time in LSC play.
Feb. 17 || Eastern New Mexico || 83-53 Win || Tarleton was a blistering 54 percent from outside the 3-point arc and four Texans scored in double digits, led by EJ Reed with 16. The Texans were actually shooting close to 60 percent with 10 minutes left in the game and the outcome already decided. ENMU shot an anemic 29 percent on its home court.
Feb. 20 || West Texas A&M || 87-82 Win || Michael Hardge poured in 21 points and Tarleton built a 25 point lead with 6 minutes remaining. West Texas A&M scored 47 points the first 34 minutes of the contest and 35 in the final six, to make it appear closer than it was. There were 76 combined free throw attempts, 68 of them in the second half.
Feb. 27 || Texas A&M-Commerce || 88-74 Win || In arguably its best performance in a true road game this season, Tarleton shot 49 percent on the road and EJ Reed netted 19 points. The Texans outscored the Lions by 12 from the arc, six from the stripe and 10 in the paint and led by as many as 22 inside five minutes remaining.
Mar. 3 || Texas A&M-Commerce || 68-60 Win || In the only back-to-back rematch of the season, Tarleton met up with TAMUC again in the opening round of the LSC Championship in Allen. After a lethargic first half left the Lions leading 25-21, Tarleton came alive in the second. Especially point guard Michael Hardge, who went on the attack and drew enough fouls to go 12-16 from the stripe and score 20 points. Romond Jenkins secured his first double-double at center, scoring 14 while collecting 12 boards. Tarleton fought off a 22-point outburst by TAMUC’s Jeremy Jones.
Mar 4 || Angelo State || 81-73 Loss || It was two-point game before Tre Bennett was fouled while shooting a 3-pointer by Michael Hardge. Bennett hit all three free throws to push the lead to five, and Tarleton had to foul after missing at the other end. Bennett scored 19 to lead the Rams, while Romond Jenkins did his best to save the Texans with 16 points and 16 boards. It wash’t enough, however, as Tarleton fell in the conference tournament semifinals for the second straight season.
Mar. 12 || Colorado School of Mines || 83-61 Win || Tarleton whisked ahead 23-7 and never looked back while improving to 10-3 in NCAA tournament openers, all over the past 15 years. Mines came into the game averaging more than 80 points but netted just 20 in the first half. EJ Reed scored 19 points to lead the Texans, who outscored Mines 44-12 in the paint. TSU shot 50 percent from the field and were 13-16 from the foul line.
Mar. 13 || Lubbock Christian || 69-63 Win || Tarleton was never in danger after back-to-back 3-pointers by EJ Reed and Michael Hardge broke a 42-42 tie midway through the second half. That jumpstarted a 12-2 run that put Tarleton in control the rest of the way, as the Texans led by 14 with just more than a minute remaining. Michael Hardge scored 18 to lead four double-digit scorers. Six Texas scored at least eight as they shot 54 percent including 47 percent from downtown.
Mar. 15 || Angelo State || 77-72 Win || Tarleton shot 50 percent from the floor and outscored ASU 42-20 in the paint to even the season series between the teams and send the Rams packing in a South Central Region final that was a rematch after the Texans also won last year. ASU became the first team in the South Central to drop consecutive regional finals in 30 years. Tre Bennett led all scorers with 21 for the Rams, but the Texans had five double digit scorers led by 17 from Malcolm Hamilton. Romond Jenkins had 10 points and 11 boards and was named tournament MVP.