No. 11 Tarleton survives late charge to upset No. 4 ASU

By BRAD KEITH  @TheFlashSports  TheFlashToday.com
By BRAD KEITH
@TheFlashSports
TheFlashToday.com
Michael Hardge slams down an alley-oop from teammate Mo Lee as part of Tarleton State’s big first half at Wisdom Gym Wednesday. (Photo by RUSSELL HUFFMAN)

STEPHENVILLE (TheFlashToday) — Tarleton State did something Wednesday night no other Lone Star Conference team has been able to do this season – defeat Angelo State. And the Texans gave head coach Lonn Reisman his 600th career win in the process.

No. 11 Tarleton (21-2, 8-2) built a 36-20 halftime lead then held off a furious rally by No. 4 ASU (21-2, 9-1) for a 72-68 win at Wisdom Gym.

The Texans won their eighth straight and snapped ASU’s school-record 16-game win streak that dated back to its only loss on Nov. 28 at Colorado Mesa. The Rams are the highest-ranked opponent Tarleton has defeated since knocking off No. 2 – and eventual national champ – Northeastern State (Okla.) in 2003.

Tarleton is alone in second in the LSC, just a game behind the Rams. Midwestern State fell to third, losing 73-60 at West Texas A&M Wednesday.

Reisman won for the 579th time in 27 years at Tarleton. He won 21 games in his only season at Connors Junior College (Okla.) before coming to Stephenville in 1988.

EJ Reed scored 20 points on 8-11 shooting. He jumpstarted the Texans by scoring their first nine points and 12 of their first 14, and had 16 at halftime when the Texans seemed to be in complete control.

“We just wanted to come out strong, and I had some chances and took advantage of them,” said Reed, who helped Tarleton avenge a 78-60 loss in San Angelo during the first loop through LSC play. “Right now we’re just focusing on playing our best every game, and that’s what we did tonight, especially in the first half.”

Mo Lee had 18 points, four assists and two steals, and Michael Hardge scored 11 with five boards, three assists and two takeaways. True freshman Nosa Ebomwonyi also played a key role with eight points and seven boards.

Tarleton had to fight off 20 points by Marsell Holden, who scored 16 in the second half. The Rams also picked up 13 from Raijon Kelly and 12 each from Demario Mayfield and Chris Jones. All four ASU leaders average double figures for the year.

Twice early in the second half Holden hit a pair of free throws to bring ASU within 10, and the Rams got within eight on a free throw by Wooldridge with 13:04 to go, and again on a jumper by Holden 29 seconds later.

A put back by Reed and a pull-up jumper by Lee made it 51-39 Tarleton, but Holden hit 3-pointers at the 10:10 mark sand again with 8:06 left – that one from about 30 feet away – to make it 54-46.

Tarleton answered that Holden long ball with a massive slam by Damion Clemons, and tempers flared when Clemons hung over an Angelo State defender, but officials quickly cleared the teams apart.

TaShawn Mabry had been on a hot streak of late but was just 2-10 for the Texans. He did hit a big bank shot to make restore Tarleton’s 12-point advantage, before who else – Holden – converted an old-school 3-point play to cut it to 58-49 with 6:23 left.

But Holden didn’t score the rest of the way while being guarded primarily by Ebomwonyi, who continues to impress his head coach.

“Nosa is mature beyond his years and he is showing that. He’s been showing and he showed it again tonight,” said Reisman. “He has a very bright future here.”

Still, the Rams continued their charge, pulling within six on a 3-pointer by Mayfield and ultimately cutting it to 67-64 on a layup by Jones with 56 seconds left.

Hardge made one from the stripe, Ebomwonyi rebounded a miss by Mayfield, then Lee hit twice from the line to make it 70-64 with 30 seconds remaining.

Jones was fouled in the wing by Hardge and hit two free throws make it 70-66, Ebomwonyi hit one of two for Tarleton, then Woolridge hit a layup to cut it to a 3-point game once more with eight seconds on the clock.

Ebomwonyi went 1-2 from the stripe again for Tarleton a second later, enough to make it a two-possession lead before Kelly air balled a 3-point attempt for ASU.

The first half was all Tarleton, and mostly Reed. His early scoring barrage featured a pair of 3-pointers, one he banked off the glass for a 14-6 lead. He finished his scoring before the intermission with an old-school 3-point play for a 33-18 lead with 3:17 remaining.

The 3,278 in attendance got especially loud moments later when Lee collected a steal and tossed up an alley-oop that Hardge slammed down with authority.

Tarleton shot 59.1 percent and limited ASU to just 36.8 percent. The Rams entered the game shooting 54.5 percent and averaging 89.1 points on the season. They were knocking down 38.9 percent from the arc until hitting just 5-20 (25 percent). ASU has not defeated Tarleton in Stephenville since 2001.

“Our defense was where it needed to be tonight, and we have to continue to play at that level,” said Reisman. This is another step in the right direction for us. It shows we can compete with the top-tier teams in this conference and in the country, and it also shows that everyone can be beat in this league. I don’t care who you are or who you’re playing, there are no ‘gimmes’ in this league.”

Tarleton takes its win streak south this weekend, visiting Texas A&M-Kingsvlle at 8 p.m. Saturday.

“We know we can’t overlook any team,” said Reed. “We’re just taking it one game at a time.”

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