It didn’t come easy, however, as the No. 5 Tarleton State Texans (9-0) and Western Washington Vikings (6-4) battled down to the final buzzer with the Texans coming out on top 72-65 at South Point Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“This was a great win for our program,” said associate head coach Chris Reisman. “We got a chance to get away from home and play an established program. I have a lot of respect for Western Washington. Their entire program is first class and this was a big win for us because they are going to win a lot of games and compete for a GNAC (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) title.”
After a 7-2 run for the Vikings to start the game, Tarleton State kicked up the notch on the defensive end and held Western Washington to just 18 more points over the final 16:48 of the opening half.
An alley-oop from Michael Hardge to Davene Carter got the offense rolling as the Texans put together an 8-0 run – capped off with a 3-ball from Nosa Ebomwonyi – to take a 10-7 lead with 12:29 left in the first half.
Over the next four minutes, Western Washington clawed back and the teams traded one-point leads until back-to-back buckets from Mo Lee put Tarleton up five.
The Vikings cut the lead back to one possession with three minutes left in the opening half but another 3-ball from Ebomwonyi started a 6-1 run for Tarleton down to the final minute. The Vikings got the final three points of the opening half and went into the break with Tarleton on top 29-25.
Western Washington cut into the Tarleton lead to make it 37-36 after the first 3:24 of the new half, but a Malcolm Hamilton 3-pointer shifted the momentum back to Tarleton and was the first of 10 unanswered Tarleton points to put the Texans up 37-36 with 12:44 left.
Despite small surges from the Vikings, Tarleton stayed in control and maintained its double-digit lead to 62-52 with five minutes left in the game.
Western Washington pushed back with a 10-2 run to pull within 64-62 with 2:50 left but Tarleton got a 6-0 surge on a two layups from TaShawn Mabry and one from Carter to put the Texans up 70-62 with 45 seconds left in the game to ultimately seal the deal.
The Vikings scored three more in the final 45 seconds and Mo Lee knocked down two free throws to bring the game to its 72-65 final.
“I was excited to see our guys come back in the second half and battle on the boards after being outrebounded in the first half,” said Reisman. “But, what I’m most proud of is, when they went on an 8-0 to cut into our 10-point lead late in the game, we persevered through it and built the lead right back. Whether you’re on the road or on a neutral site, you have to find a way to win. Now I’m excited we’re 9-0 and trying to get better one game at a time.”
Lee led the Texans with 19 points while Carter posted his seventh career double-double with 16 points and 10 boards, as well as a career-high five blocked shots. Mabry also cracked double figures with 11 points.
Michael Hardge scored nine while Nosa Ebomwonyi added eight. Hamilton (4) and Damion Clemons(5) provided the only bench points of the night to round out the Tarleton scoring.
The battle of the boards was a tale of two halves. Tarleton State was outrebounded 28-17 in the opening half but won the second half 19-12 to bring the rebounding totals for the game to 40-36 in favor of the Vikings.
Tarleton shot 51 percent from the field, 31 percent from downtown and 63 percent at the charity stripe on 10-16 shooting while holding Western Washington to 39 percent from the floor, 33 percent from beyond the arc and 44 percent from the free throw line on 7-16 shooting.
The Texans return to action tomorrow evening in the final game of the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic when they square off with No. 12 Drury at 5:45 p.m. / 7:45 p.m. CST.