BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - Tarleton State (24-5) reached the final of the Lone Star Conference Championship for the second straight season.
And once again, the Texans sulked off the court as an opponent celebrated a conference title.
This time it was No. 7 Central Oklahoma (28-3) that denied No. 15 Tarleton's championship hopes, as the Bronchos shot 56.8 percent from the floor and hit 10 3-point bombs on their way to a 68-52 victory and their fifth LSC crown at Bruin Fieldhouse Sunday.
It was UCO's seventh straight victory over Tarleton, which had its 11-game win streak snapped in a battle between the champions of the LSC's North and South Divisions.
The Bronchos limited Tarleton to just 25.7 percent from the floor and matched their school record for victories in a season with 28. They won 28 in 2008 when their last victory was a 78-77 thriller over Tarleton in the South Central Region championship game.
"It makes a difference when the shots go in," said ninth-year head coach Terry Evans, who took the Bronchos to their eighth championship game appearance. "They didn't shoot it good, and I know it wasn't their best game, but we executed on both ends and earned the win."
Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman agreed.
"We had opportunities early in the game where we had good looks at the basket," Reisman said. "Ours didn't go in and their's did. That was the difference in the game.
"Central Oklahoma played very well today, and we definitely didn't play as well," Reisman continued. "They were probably responsible for the way we played."
Tournament MVP Dauntae Williams scored 14 points, grabbed four boards and dished out three assists.
Evans spoke concerning the importance of developing a surrounding cast around Williams, who was LSC North Division Player of the Year after being named a preseason All-American.
That supporting cast was at its best Sunday as all-tournament selection Brent Friday led the Bronchos in scoring with 16 points, assists with five and steals with three. Victor Driver, another all-tournament pick, also scored 14 while dropping three dimes.
Most of UCO's damage from the arc came from attacking the basket then kicking the ball out.
"They play the best defense in the nation," Evans said of Tarleton. "Anybody can guard plays, but it's hard to guard dribble penetration. It just is."
Corin Henry represented the Texans on the all-tournament squad after scoring 19 points Sunday. The senior point guard and LSC South Defensive Player of the Year struggled from the floor, however, going just 5-14. He had only two field goals and seven points after the break, when the Bronchos outscored the Texans 33-24.
It was UCO's employment of multiple zone defenses that gave Tarleton fits.
"That's the first time we've seen a zone in a while, and give them credit," said Reisman, who took the Texans to the championship game of the tournament for the sixth time since 2002. "They are a multiple defense team and they executed well."
Evans said it was all about getting the Texans out of their comfort zone.
"They had been playing great of late, I can't even tell you the last time they lost," said Evans. "We wanted them to have to do something different.
"We played more zone to keep them off the free throw line," he added. "They've been shooting a lot more free throws than their opponents, so that was one key."
Tarleton was 17-27 at the line after going 25-33 in the semifinals and 35-52 in the opening round of the event.
The Texans used eight straight points to claw their way within two after trailing by 11 in the opening moments of the second half, but UCO exploded for a 14-0 run to move ahead 55-39 and was in control the rest of the way.
The game-deciding run began with a triple by June Carter, followed by both a runner and bomb by Driver. Carter added two points and Friday scored four to complete the charge and make it 55-39.
Donta Smith finally slowed the bleeding with a put back with 8:15 to go, Tarleton's first points in six minutes, 15 seconds.
Central maintained a double-digit advantage the rest of the way, leading by as many as 19 in the closing minutes.
The Bronchos, who improved to 26-0 when leading at halftime, entered the the final 20 minutes with a seven-point advantage.
Williams dished off an assist to Friday for two points, then hit a triple and a deuce on UCO's next two possessions to put the Bronchos up 28-23 just after the four-minute mark of the first half.
Tarleton pulled within two on a 3-ball by Coleman Furst, but Central scored the final five points of the half on a layup by Tyler Phillips and a 3-pointer by Tucker Phillips with seven seconds on the clock for a 35-28 lead.
This will be the last LSC title for the Bronchos, who are in the process of moving to the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA).
At least four LSC teams are expected to be in action in the South Central Regional next week. At-large selections, seedings and sites for the eight NCAA Division II regionals will be announced at 9 p.m. tonight after the women's playoff bracket is unveiled at 8:30 p.m.
It appears UCO will host the regional in Edmond, Okla. The Bronchos entered the week No. 2 in the region and are expected to move up to No. 1 in tonight's selection show after No. 1 Missouri Southern was upset by fourth-seeded Fort Hays State in the championship of the MIAA tournament.
"We want to keep our heads up," said Reisman. "This is just one game. You're judged on your entire body of work and we've had 29 games and have had a great season.
"This was a very strong final four here (also including Midwestern State and West Texas A&M)," he added. "I expect all four will be in the regional and I believe any of us could (win it)."
The regional begins Saturday and continues Sunday before the championship on Tuesday, March 15.