Freshmen key in Texan Elite Eight comeback

Phil Riddle phil.riddle@empiretribune.com Twitter @ETSports
Nosa Ebomwonyi was one of two TSU freshmen who plated key roles in Tarleton's Elite Eight win over Mount Olive on Wednesday. Above, Ebomwonyi splits three Trojan defenders for a first quarter bucket.

Apparently the word tenacious starts with a big, purple T.

That tenacity was the catalyst in Tarleton State overcoming an early 10-point deficit Wednesday and earning its second-ever berth in the Final Four. The Texans trailed 13-3 in the first half but responded to win the Elite Eight matchup against Mount Olive, 77-59.

The Texans slow start was evidenced by 42 percent shooting in the first half. However, after the break, Tarleton converted two-thirds of its shots.

“We didn’t come out so much flat as we came out rushing things. ,” explained Tarlteon State Associate Head Coach Chris Reisman in his postgame comments Wednesday. “We were getting good looks but we weren’t converting them. We had a little bit of butterflies.

“I thought we did a great job heading into halftime, “ he said, “keeping our composure, keeping the game plan together. We regained our composure. These guys didn’t panic.”

The turnaround was just as drastic for the Trojans who bolted from the gate hitting 57 percent of their shots, then cooled off in the last half to just 24 percent.

As usual, the Texans’ defense was crucial to the win, outrebounding the Trojans 21-14 on the defensive end.

“That was one of our defensive keys, to out-rebound Mount Olive,” said Texan senior forward Davene Carter. “We had a size advantage, so rebounding was one of our strengths.”

Another strength for Tarleton was the clutch play of two first-year players, Nosa Ebomwonyi and Deshawn Riddick. The duo hit key shots to keep the Texans within striking distance in first half.

Ebomwonyi was one of four Texans who finished in double figures. The 6-4 guard from Plugerville connected on three treys on his way to an 11-point game. Riddick, a 6-1 point guard from Austin, scored nine points, including a three-pointer.

“Those two guys are Texan tough,” said Reisman . “They were open and they knocked down shots. Those two gave us big-time quality minutes. They were up for the challenge tonight.”

Mo Lee led the Texans with 15 points. Lee shot three of eight from the field, two of three from beyond the arc and seven of nine fom the charity stripe. Carter contributed 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and both his free throws. Michael Hardge also had 12, most coming from his 10-of-14 performance from the free throw line.

Mike Moore led the Trojans with 18 points, followed by Kendall Hargrove with 15 and JaQuan Blount’s 13.

Standout Mount Olive guard Dontrell Brite was limited to just five points before fouling out in the second half.

the quarterfinal winner between Azusa Pacific and Indiana (Penn.) in Thursday’s Final Four round in Evansville.

Fans can listen locally to the game on the Tarleton Sports Network, KTRL radio, 90.5 FM. Television coverage of the Final Four battle is on the CBS Sports Network. The game can also be seen online at NCAA.com