ENMU faces Southeastern in LSC tourney opener

By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer

Suffice it to say, the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team picked the right time to play arguably its best road game of the season.

In a winner-take-all situation, the Greyhounds edged Midwestern State 84-82 in overtime on Saturday at Wichita Falls, Texas, claiming the Lone Star Conference South Division’s final spot in the LSC tournament. ENMU (12-15, 6-6 South) plays a quarterfinal game against the North’s co-champion and top-seed, Southeastern Oklahoma (17-9, 9-3), at 6 p.m. (MST) today in Durant, Okla.

If that seems like a mismatch, note that the Hounds thumped the Savage Storm 83-65 in a January crossover game at Greyhound Arena.

“Obviously, you can’t put much stock into that game, because both teams have changed,” ENMU men’s coach Shawn Scanlan said. “Tuesday will be a different day. It’ll be a tough atmosphere for us.”

Meantime, Eastern’s women finished an injury-plagued season in style on Saturday, beating Midwestern State 73-63.

ENMU’s men shot 57 percent from the field against Midwestern, including 11-of-19 from 3-point range, and overcame a 33-13 deficit in free throw attempts.

Playing without injured junior post Mikal Monette (knee), guards Tristan Largent (22 points), Joshua Jackson (17) and Jolen Montoya (14) supplied the main scoring punch against the Mustangs. Jackson, a freshman from Madison, Wis., hit a long jumper to tie the game at the end of regulation and knocked down a baseline shot with 1.4 seconds to go in OT to win it.

Scanlan said Sunday that Monette expects to have exploratory surgery on Wednesday and is likely done for the season.

“With all that was riding on the game, I was really pleased with the way our guys played,” Scanlan said. “Tristan hit some big shots; both Josh and Tristan struggled early, but when the game was in the balance both of them stepped up.”

Shorthanded inside, Scanlan said the Hounds defended well against 6-foot-9 post Eric Dawson and 6-7 forward LaKeith Grant. Dawson scored 21 points and grabbed 14 rebounds but had to work hard for what he got, Scanlan said, while Grant managed only six points after scoring 24 in the teams’ earlier meeting at Greyhound Arena.

“They had a good, vocal crowd,” Scanlan said. “It was just one of those hard-fought games, and we made some awfully big plays.”

If they win tonight, the Hounds advance to a semifinal game against either West Texas A&M or Southwestern Oklahoma on Friday. The site of the semifinals and finals will be determined by the outcome of tonight’s games.

For the Zias, who had lost five players — including three in a short period in late November and early December — to season-ending injuries, Saturday’s win was satisfying after coming up just short in a number of games.

The team’s top players, senior post Tiana Bryant and junior guard Heather Brown, both came up big with 27-point outings — a career high for Brown, who went 10-of-13 from the field.

Brown moved into 11th place on ENMU’s all-time scoring list with 932 career points, while Bryant completed her 2 1/2 years at the school in 13th place with 913 points. Bryant scored in double figures in all but one game this year.

“Heather played really well,” Zias coach Dan Buzard said. “She just came out with confidence and played the way we needed her to play.

“Tiana kept us going this year at times when we were struggling. It was a good way to send her out.”

Despite the injury problems, Buzard said the Zias never lacked for effort.

“We just went out and played basketball Saturday night,” he said. “I’m pleased we finished with a win. I think we competed pretty well over the second half of our (South) schedule.”