BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - There were three key factors which ultimately explains the 66-63 downfall of the Tarleton TexAnns (16-12) to Central Oklahoma (24-4) in the opening round of the Lone Star Conference Tournament at Bruin Field House on Wednesday - foul outs, free throws and a field goal drought of seven minutes, 46 seconds.
The TexAnns were just over 11:30 from their first postseason victory since joining the LSC, but Central Oklahoma would not be denied.
“Central Oklahoma is an outstanding team. They are a very physical, well conditioned and well coached team," said sixth-year Tarleton head coach Ronnie Hearne. "They are one of the best teams in this region and they’re probably going to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. I’m extremely proud of my players. For 40 minutes, they played as a team, played as hard as they could and it just didn’t work out."
JoAnne Jones banked one in for two at the 11:34 mark of the second half to give Tarleton a 53-46 lead.
After that, the TexAnns didn’t connect on another field goal until Jones laid another one off the glass for two with 3:48 left.
Before the Jones bucket, Central had managed to tie the score at 57-57 on the strength of an 11-4 run.
Shelby Adamson fouled out with 6:09 left to play, and was followed by D’Anna Dingler with 3:02 left.
Over the final 3:48, Central went to the free throw line nine times and connected on all of them. UCO went to the free throw line 17 more times than the TexAnns in the contest, going 27-36 in the game and 21-24 in the second half. Tarleton went 13-19 at the line, including 9-12 in the second half..
“We focused on ways to stop No. 13 (Lizzie Brenner), that was our No. 1 priority,” said Hearne. “They shot a few more free throws than us and that’s another part of the game we needed to win. We shoot 19, they shot 36 so we certainly didn’t win that part of the game.”
Tarleton had one last effort when Tori Skarke put up a 3-point attempt, but Central was given the benefit of the doubt on what was called a block instead of a foul.
The drought and the high amount of free throws given to the Bronchos would ultimately spell doom for the TexAnns and Hearne, who is now 0-6 in LSC Tournament action at Tarleton.
Tarleton’s Morgan Stehling got her first start of the season and scored the TexAnns' first eight points for an early 8-2 lead.
UCO clawed back and the teams stayed even over the first 7:27, due to poor shooting on both sides.
Central Oklahoma snatched its first lead of the game when Rose Anderson finished off a 3-point play the old-fashioned way, but Tara Towns answered the call with a jumper at the 10:11 mark of the opening half to regain the lead for Tarleton.
After the teams swapped a pair of buckets, Towns took a charge to set up a Sonya Sundberg 3-pointer for a 22-18 lead.
The Sundberg bomb set up a 9-4 run to take a 28-22 advantage, but Central climbed back with a 7-2 run to bring the score to 30-29 in favor of the TexAnns.
Heading into halftime, Central had a chance to tie the contest but Christina Yarbrough couldn’t connect from the charity stripe and Jones cashed in from the paint to take a 36-33 lead into the break.
Tarleton was led in scoring by Sundberg with 19 points, while Jones finished the season with her third straight double-double with 18 points and 10 boards. The junior finished with eight double-doubles on the season.
Stehling tallied 12 for the TexAnns.
“(Stehling)’s really given us a spark off the bench,” said Hearne. “Kelsey Benford’s been sick and we weren’t even sure if she could play at all tonight. We felt like D’Anna could do a good job on Brenner, and unfortunately D’Anna got in foul trouble. Morgan’s definitely been a spark and she’s going to be a great player for the TexAnns.”
Dingler played only 20 minutes in her final game as a TexAnn before fouling out, but posted four points, grabbed four rebounds, had two dimes and a steal.
“D’Anna’s always going to be a part of the TexAnn basketball program. She’s always ging to have a connection with Tarleton State University and whatever success these players have next year, she’ll be a part of that,” said Hearne about his lone senior.
“I just hope I set a good example for these girls. I’m going to miss them,” said an emotional Dingler. “They have nowhere to go but up. They’re losing me, but they’re going to get (injured post) Brittnie Haley back and they’re going to be strong. I think next year they’re going to be awesome. I’m very proud of them and they gave a great effort and showed great heart. This is a tough one. We lost to them earlier this season by three and here we are again. I thought we were prepared and we fell apart at the end, but I’m proud of this team and this program.”
Tarleton will hit the books and field house as they begin offseason, but with 12 returning players, and a former team leader in rebounds and points returning from a medical red shirt in Haley, the TexAnns look to 2010 with high hopes.
“I sure hope so,” said Hearne when asked if Tarleton is going to be a force to reckoned with next season. “We’re planning on it. I know the players are and the coaches are planning on it. I thought that was one reason why it was tremendously important for this group to get here, and experience this. If those eight freshman, three sophomores and that junior had stayed home, then it would be hard to come down here next year and make some noise. I’m just glad they got this experience."