BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - Corin Henry poured in 21 points and Darrion Washington added 17 as No. 15 Tarleton State (23-4) survived a strong upset bid by Southwestern Oklahoma State (16-13), holding on 74-65 in the opening round of the Lone Star Conference Championship at Bruin Fieldhouse Wednesday night.
Tarleton, champions of the LSC South, won its 10th straight and 15th of its last 16, but there were plenty of nervous moments in the second half as Southwestern Oklahoma, the fourth-place team in the North, kept it close.
"When you get to tournaments like this, first round games are often some of the toughest," said Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman. "We knew they were a very good team, and we had a little foul trouble, but I'm proud of our players."
Tarleton trailed only once in the opening five minutes of the game and led 35-24 at the break despite not scoring a single point in the paint in the opening half.
The Texans finished with only 14 points in the paint, but made up for it by outscoring the Bulldogs 28-15 off the bench including 20-4 before halftime.
"I'm really pleased with the depth we have on this team," Reisman said. "It came through for us several times during our run in the South and it came through again (Wednesday)."
Henry had a big night at the free throw line, knocking down 11 of 15 attempts. Tarleton was 35-52 (67.3 percent) at the stripe and Southwestern was 15-22 (68.2 percent) as the teams combined to commit 60 fouls.
Henry was also 5-8 from the floor on his way to leading Tarleton in scoring for the sixth straight game and 14th time this season. He was fighting foul trouble throughout the night, picking up his fourth just past the midway point of the second half.
"I was in foul trouble, but I just had to do what I could to help my team win the game," said Henry. "I know my teammates look up to me to lead like that."
Washington's big numbers came in just the third start of his career. He was 5-9 from the floor including 3-5 from the arc. The junior also went 4-5 at the free-throw stripe.
"It was a great opportunity my coaches gave me, and I knew I just had to take advantage of it," said Washington. "I know my teammates and coaches believe in me, and I thank them for lifting me up."
Washington was starting in place of Carrington Tankson, who was suspended for the remainder of the season for an unspecified team rules violation.
"One thing I know I'm going to get when Darrion is in there is his absolute best," said Reisman. "(He and Corin) are two guys who I know are going to give us 110 percent all the time, and it takes that to win in games like the one we just played. It takes that to win in this tournament and to win in the NCAA playoffs."
Tarleton, which leads the nation in scoring defense, surrendered more than 60 points for only the fifth time in 16 games, but the Bulldogs could never get over the top.
A pair of free throws by Ross Moore and a jumper by Greg Richardson pulled Southwestern within two at 44-42 with 11:39 still to go.It was a two-point game once again after a Leon Nelson layup with 9:30 left, but Tarleton took over from there.
The Texans scored 12 of the next 14 points, a run touched off by a pair of Nick Mosley free throws and jumpers by Henry and Fabian Wilson. Wes Dipprey then laid one in, Henry hit a pair from the charity stripe and Donta Smith scored inside to make it 58-46 with 4:33 remaining.
Southwestern pulled within seven twice in the final three minutes, but got no closer.
Mosley gave Tarleton a third double-figure scorer by matching his season high with 10 points off the bench. Devon Hills did not start, but led the team in minutes with 29. He had eight points and a pair of steals.
Tarleton, ranked third in the latest South Central Region rankings, avenged an early-season road loss to the Bulldogs and earned a tournament semifinal date with Midwestern State at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Texans, who have not won the conference championship since 2004, have defeated the Mustangs twice this season after the defending conference and regional champs knocked them off four times last year.
The winner earns a chance to play for the conference crown at 1 p.m. Sunday against either Central Oklahoma or West Texas A&M.
"It doesn't get any easier," said Reisman. It's going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight again…It's a great opportunity for both teams."