STEPHENVILLE - Tarleton (4-0) won for the 100th time in its last 108 home games Tuesday, but not without far more suspense than in most of the previous 99 wins by the Texans in Wisdom Gym.
St. Edward's (3-1), the two-time defending champion of the Heartland Conference, couldn't overcome the tenacity of the Texans' man-to-man defense, scoring 21 points less than its 85-point per game average as the Texans remained undefeated, 73-64.
The Hilltoppers played their own brand of effective man defense, as Tarleton missed its season scoring average as well. The Texans entered the contest averaging 86.7 points per game.
"That's always been our primary style of defense," 20th-year Tarleton Head Coach Lonn Reisman said of the man-to-man. "I think our defense was able to get a little more pressure than their's, and that and rebounding were why we were able to win the game. When you play good defense and rebound well, you can overcome adversity on a night when you don't shoot the ball all that well."
Tarleton led 57-53 with 7:03 left, but broke it open with seven consecutive points. Dan Eichel began the late run with a free throw, then Avery Patterson buried a three. Jefrey Henfield knocked down one of two from the charity stripe before Limar Wilson hit a lay-up to push the lead to 64-53.
Henfield led all scorers with 18 points, and was Tarleton's leading rebounder with seven boards. Patterson scored 15 and Wilson, who was 6-8 shooting from the floor, finished with 13 and also grabbed five boards.
Tarleton was 41.5-percent from the floor, hitting 22-53 shots. The Texans connected on only five of 14 from beyond the arc for 35.7-percent.
Drawing contact and getting to the charity stripe was no problem as the Texans attempted 40 free throws. Consistently making the foul shots is another issue, as they hit only 24, good for 60-percent.
St. Edward's was 47.8-percent shooting, impressive for opponents playing at Wisdom Gym, and hit seven of 14 three-point attempts. The Hilltoppers were 13-18 at the free throw line.
St. Ed's outscored Tarleton 18-9 over the first six minutes of the second half, cutting into a 12-point halftime deficit.
"If we could have outplayed them in the first four or five minutes of the second half we could have stretched our halftime lead," Reisman explained. "Instead, they outplayed us and made it a close game."
Tarleton came back with a three by Jefrey Henfield with 13:44 remaining to stretch the lead back to six.
St. Edward's kept it close early in the first half, and even led once at 7-5.
Tarleton didn't trail long, however, answering the challenge with a 9-0 run during which Patterson hit his only three-point shot of the first half and scored five of the nine points.
St. Edward's broke the Tarleton run with a bomb from downtown of its own by Michael Moss, ending the Hilltoppers' scoreless stretch of 2:58.
Tarleton stretched the lead to 10 points at 20-10 and again at 28-18 on baskets by Wilson, who scored eight of his 13 in the first half.
Dan Eichel buried a three-pointer while drawing a foul at the 3:34 mark, then hit the free throw to convert on a four-point play that stretched the lead to 33-20.
The teams traded baskets for the final two minutes and Tarleton led by a dozen going into the locker room at 38-26.
Tarleton takes the floor at Wisdom Gym again Thursday and Saturday. Lone Star Conference crossover action begins with 8 p.m. tip-offs against Cameron and Southwestern Oklahoma State. Both games are preceded by women's contests.
"I look forward playing Cameron and Southwestern because they ended some streaks against us last year," stated Reisman. "We had a little streak going until we lost to Southwestern and we had defeated Cameron 15 or 16 straight times and they beat us last year."
Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124, ext. 241, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.