Until Saturday. Until two seniors carried the No. 12 Texans to a 77-73 win over No. 25 Texas A&M-Commerce, snapping the Lions’ 14-game home win streak The Fieldhouse to take over sole possession of third place in the deep and talent-laden Lone Star Conference.
While a date with second-place arch-rival Midwestern State looms ahead in Wichita Falls Wednesday, 27th-year Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman said before beginning preparations for their rematch with the Mustangs, his team would receive a much-needed day off on Super Bowl Sunday.
The Texans sure earned it. Especially Mo Lee and TaShawn Mabry, who each scored 24 points. It was a career high for Lee.
“I would say this is a signature road win for us,” Lee said following the battle between rivals who had never before played while both were ranked in the top 25 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches, not even when they met in the regional final in 2005. “We still had a bad taste in our mouths from losing here last year. We felt like we owed them so we wanted to come out and play hard, and that’s what we did.”
Lee was an efficient 8-13 from the floor and scored 16 in the second half. He filled out his stat line with seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. He scored at least 20 for the third time in four games.
Mabry is averaging 22.8 points over the last four games and has reached double figures in 10 of the last 12.
Tarleton improved to 3-0 when Mabry scores 20 or more, 3-0 when Lee scores 20 or more and 2-0 when each reach the 20-point plateau.
“They’re the senior scorers, and they have to lead us,” said Reisman. “They’re both playing at a high level right now. They are leading our team and I couldn’t be more pleased with their performance.
A Lee 3-pointer gave Tarleton its first lead of the second half, 51-50. After A&M-Commerce evened the score at 53, another senior, Damion Clemons, knocked one down from the arc to put the Texans up for good with 8:13 left.
Malcolm Hamilton helped keep the Lions at arm’s length with a pair of baskets to restore six-point leads, then a 3-pointer by Mabry gave Tarleton it’s largest lead, 69-61, with 2:22 left.
The Texans sealed the win from the foul stripe, hitting eight of their last 10 free throws, including 6-8 in the final 43 seconds.
Michael Hardge matched the largest lead with a pair to make it 76-68, just moments after Lee went 3-4 over two trips to the line. Hamilton split a pair from the stripe to make it 77-71 with eight seconds left, and rendering pointless A&M-Commerce’s final basket that completed the ledger.
Tarleton doubled down anytime LSC leading scorer Darrell Williams touched the ball in the paint. Entering the game averaging 17.8 points and 12.2 rebounds, Williams had just six points on 2-7 shooting and was limited to six boards.
Christian Macauley picked up the slack by scoring 21 on 8-14 shooting. LaDon Carnegie had 15 points, JR Owens 10 and Anthony Adams nine along with seven assists.
Hamilton and Clemons each scored seven for Tarleton.
The Texans jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead to begin the game, but suffered through an offensive lull after moving ahead 10-5. A&M-Commerce scored 10 straight points during Tarleton’s drought, and ultimately led 33-25 late in the first half.
Tarleton trailed 35-29 at intermission, but Lee and Mabry quickly combined for six straight points to open the second half. A&M-Commerce responded by scoring 11 of the next 15 for a 46-39 lead.
But that’s when Tarleton took over, using a 14-4 run to lead 53-50. Lee scored eight points during the run.
“I feel good about where we’re at because we still have room to improve but we’re shooting the ball at a high level and we’re competing hard,” said Reisman. “That’s all I can ask of them is to play hard and compete.”
Tarleton out-rebounded A&M-Commerce 35-25, including a 12-7 edge on the offensive glass that produced a 20-8 advantage in second-half points. The Lions entered the game out-rebounding opponents by 8.8 boards per game, 10th best in the nation.
“That has been our Achilles Heel throughout the year,” said Lee of rebounding. “Coach challenged us before this game to compete on the boards, and that’s what we did.”
Reisman has said numerous times that improved rebounding is a point of emphasis for his team, and it appears to be paying off.
“I think it’s about focus, concentration and the will to go to the backboard,” Reisman said. “It’s something we’ve worked on in practice, and we’ve tried to instill that killer instinct it takes to win the battle for rebounds.”
The Texans had just four turnovers in the second half after 10 in the first.
“We had 10 at halftime and I felt like we had to do a better job of taking care of the ball if we were going to have a chance to come from behind on the road in this tough environment,” Reisman said.
So the Texans took care of the ball, they rebounded it, and Lee and Mabry put it in the hole, earning just the signature road when they needed with a chance at another on deck.
Notes: Tarleton won for the fourth time in its last five trips to Commerce and improved to 26-16 against the Lions under Reisman… Lee and Mabry also scored more than 20 each in a 76-71 win over West Texas A&M on Jan. 21 in Stephenville… Wednesday’s game against rival Midwestern is at D.L. Ligon Coliseum in Wichita Falls and tips off at 7:30 p.m. following a women’s contest at 5:30.