BARTLESVILLE, OK—After Central Oklahoma (24-5) was defeated in Stephenville on January 3, they went on to finish the regular season by winning 14 of their final 15 games.
Tarleton (23-6) learned why on Friday.
The Texans were sent back to Stephenville after falling to the Bronchos, 77-65, in the Lone Star Conference Tournament Semifinals.
UCO went on to knock off Texas A&M - Commerce, 72-70, on Saturday to win the championship (See brackets on Page B2).
In a very physical match up, the Texans had no answer for LSC North Player of the Year Sam Belt.
“Sam (Belt) is a tremendous player,” said Tarleton coach Lonn Reisman. “I’m glad he is (a senior). I’ve seen him for four years, and he has made himself an outstanding player. He is a class young man. He knows every in-and-out of that system that there is to know, and it showed tonight.”
Belt finished the contest with 26 points and nine rebounds while shooting 64-percent from the field, including 4-7 from beyond the arc . Lance Harper also helped to pace UCO with 18 points and six boards.
As a team, the Bronchos connected on 51-percent of their shots from the floor and 47-percent from beyond the arc.
UCO hit 16-26 shots in the first half to take a 47-35 lead at the break. The Texans stepped up the defense in the second half, limiting the Bronchos to only 9 field goals.
“In the first half, we weren’t playing defense,” said guard Jefrey Henfield. “They were getting wide open 3-pointers. We weren’t containing our men, and they were getting wide open looks at the basket. In the second half, we came out with much better intensity. The first half killed us and if we could take it back we would, but they’re a great team and they made shots when it counted.”
Tarleton started the game on the wrong end of a 13-4 run.
“I thought Central Oklahoma played an excellent game,” said Reisman. “I thought the game was decided in the first five minutes. They jumped out to about a 12-point lead. I think after that we played them even for the rest of the night. You can’t spot a team twelve points, as good as they are.”
The Texans were led in scoring by Jefrey Henfield with 14 points, while Eric Williams added 13 of his own and a team-leading seven rebounds. The team also hit 46-percent from the floor and 29-percent from 3-point land.
Tarleton hit only 18-28 from the charity stripe, good for just 64-percent. Terrence Gamble went to the line a season-high 14 times but hit only 7.
“We’ve been around a 72-73-percent free throw shooting team all year,” said Reisman. “That was a factor, and I like going to the line 28 times. That’s what we’re trying to do. If we could make 24 or 25 of those, we’d be in good shape.”
UCO eliminated Tarleton from the LSC Championship for the second straight season. The Bronchos knocked off the Texans in the quarterfinal round in Edmond, Okla. last year.
Tarleton entered the tournament at No. 2 in the South Central Region Rankings. No. 1 West Texas A&M was knocked off by Texas A&M-Commerce in the tournament quarterfinals on Wednesday.
After spending the majority of the season atop the regional poll, the Texans are an apparent lock to be in the regional tournament, and with a 23-6 record, could still claim the top seed and rights to host the event.
Tarleton will host a National Selection Show watch party at Wisdom Gym tonight. Doors will open at 9 p.m., with the show set to start at 9:30 p.m.
TSU is no stranger to the D-II dance, but Reisman knows there is still a lot of work to do before the Texans can have a shot at their third Elite Eight appearance in the last four years.
“We’re going to have to shoot the ball better, and execute better,” said Reisman. “I think these are things that we can do. We know what we are capable of doing, and I still don’t think we’ve peaked yet.
Regional tournaments are set for Friday, March 14 - Tuesday, March 18.