Hounds, Zias look to clinch LSC tourney berths

Dave Wagner

PORTALES — With losses at tailenders Angelo State and Abilene Christian last week, the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team gave up some of its cushion in the race for a Lone Star Conference tournament berth.

Part of that has to do with injuries — three of ENMU’s inside players have been hobbled for a while, and senior guard Stefan Mirabal missed Saturday’s 79-68 loss to ACU with a hamstring injury.

Still, the Hounds (13-10, 6-8 LSC) are a solid sixth in the 10-team league, with four games left. They probably need one win to lock up a playoff berth — eight teams qualify, and two to cement sixth place.

Third-year Greyhounds coach Andrew Helton said his team has probably had to deal with more injuries this year than the first two combined.

“It’s crazy,” he said.

Helton isn’t sure any of the four will be back for Wednesday’s trip to Tarleton State, but a couple could return for Saturday’s p.m. home game against Texas A&M-Commerce. Senior forwards Aaron Edwards (shoulder) and Max Carrier (knees, back) and sophomore forward Daniel Strong (back) have all missed several games.

The Hounds are 8-1 at home this season, but 1-8 on the road, including 0-7 in the LSC. Their remaining road tilts are Wednesday at Tarleton State and Feb. 25 at Midwestern State, the top two teams in the conference.

“I’m not the least bit disappointed in the way we’ve played at home, with the exception of the (Texas A&M-)Kingsville game,” Helton said, referring to a 60-56 win in which the Hounds played poorly but bailed it out late.

He said the effort was good at ACU.

“We played a lot better against Abilene Christian than we did against Angelo,” Helton said. “Give (ACU) credit. They made some big plays after we took the lead late.”

Meantime, ENMU’s women stand eighth out of 11 teams after a split, beating Angelo State in San Angelo for the first time in 15 years on Wednesday and a loss Saturday at ACU.

First-year coach Lindsey Wilson has the Zias (8-14, 6-10) playing at a relatively high level, despite Saturday’s 74-61 loss at ACU. Picked for last place in preseason, ENMU has gone 6-6 since New Year’s with impressive wins over West Texas A&M, Incarnate Word, Texas Woman’s and ASU, plus several near-misses.

“This has been the easiest team I’ve ever coached,” Wilson said. “It makes my job a lot easier when you have kids who are willing to listen and learn, and willing to make changes.”

Unlike the men, Wilson said her squad is relatively healthy heading into the final stretch.

Saturday’s loss at ACU (9-13, 4-12) ended a run of four wins in five games.

“We just got a little too lax,” Wilson said. “We started out really flat. In the games we’ve won, for the most part we started out well.”

With the wins over higher-ranked teams serving as potential tie-breakers, a 2-2 split the rest of the way should get the Zias into the conference tourney. To control their own destiny, though, Wilson said they’ll probably have to win three of four.