By BRAD KEITH
ALLEN (March 5, 2017) — Five years to the day after winning the Lone Star Conference Championship tournament, Tarleton State climbed the mountain again.
Tournament MVP Mackenzie Hailey poured in 23 points to and three others scored in double digits as the TexAnns (16-13) outlasted Angelo State (24-5) in a 80-78 upset Sunday at Allen Event Center.
It’s the second time Tarleton has won the tournament and the fourth time in six years the TexAnns reached the championship game. Tarleton beat Incarnate Word in the final in 2012, and dropped finals to Midwestern State and West Texas A&M in 2013 and 2014.
Tarleton took the lead on a bucket by Ikpeaku Iwobi in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter and never trailed again, leading by as many as five – 71-66 – before a four-point play on a 3-pointer with a foul by KeAnna Kelly made it a one-point game.
The game was tied once more – for the sixth time – at 73-73 when Lexi Murphy buried an Angelo State 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining, but Tarleton answered big bucket with big bucket all afternoon, this time with Mackenzie Hailey hitting a reverse layup to put the TexAnns ahead for good.
Then, on a day full of offensive highlights for both teams, the sophomore forward made the biggest play of the game on the defensive end, taking a charge to give the TexAnns back the ball before Tiara Tatum buried a 3-pointer from the right wing just in front of the fired up Tarleton bench and fans for a 78-73 margin.
Murphy returned the favor from long range for ASU, but freshman point guard Kylie Collins knocked down one of two free throws to make it a 79-76 lead, Hailey grabbed the biggest rebound of the day after an Angelo miss and Bailey Wipff hit the back end of two free throws for a two-possession lead in the closing seconds.
ASU scored a put back at the buzzer, but it was too little, too late, as the Tarleton bench charged onto the court, the purple-clad crazies in the stands went nuts and the celebration, net cutting, trophy presentation, photos and more made for an everlasting recording of one of the best days in the history of the Tarleton women’s basketball program.
Wipff scored 18, Iwobi had 17 and seven boards and Tatum knocked down 15 points. Hailey added six boards to her line and finished averaging 17.3 points in the three wins, including a 55-49 battle with fourth-seeded Texas A&M-Commerce in the quarterfinals and a 60-47 win over eighth-seeded Texas A&M-Kingsville in the semifinals.
Iowbi and Wipff each joined Hailey on the all-tournament team.
Taylor Dorsey poured in 26 points and had four assists and two steals to lead the Rambelles a day after amassing 35 points and dealing six assists in the semifinals. She made the all-tournament team along with Murphy, who scored 12, grabbed even boards and handed out five assists.
The third quarter was a wild one with eight lead changes and five ties, and fittingly, it ended with the finalists deadlocked, 56-56. Christina Robinson, who scored 11 for ASU, hit a jumper for a two-point lead before Tatum sprinted the other way for Tarleton, split two defenders as she crossed the foul stripe then knocked down a floater at the buzzer to create the tie entering the final 10 minutes.
The third began with a 7-0 Tarleton run for its first lead, 40-38. Tatum began the second-half scoring before Hailey connected on a reverse layup and a 3-ball.
Before Tarleton could even imagine celebrating at mid-court, the TexAnns had to survive an early charge by ASU, the No. 2 ranked team in the South Central Region and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.
Tarleton, the fifth seed at the tournament, found itself trailing 24-6 after 16 quick points from Dorsey. But the TexAnns settled in, finishing the first quarter on a 6-0 run with buckets by Iwobi, Travanti Downes then Tatum to trail 25-14 entering the second.
Tarleton rode its newfound momentum right back into the game in the second quarter, outscoring the Rambles 19-13 to trail by just five – 38-33 – at intermission. Hailey had 10 points in the second quarter and 12 at halftime, while Wipff scored five in the second to finish the half with seven.
Dorsey had 19 at halftime for ASU before being limited to seven in the second half, when Tarleton went back to the zone defense it used to slow Texas A&M-Commerce in the quarterfinals.
It wasn’t the first time Tarleton and ASU played a thriller this season. In fact, it wasn’t even the second time, but the third.
ASU won in overtime in San Angelo on January 7, and Tarleton wiped out a late double-digit deficit to win on a pair of free throws following a technical when Dorsey called timeout while the Rambelles had none with less than two seconds remaining in Stephenville on February 9.