EVANSVILLE, Ind. — An early 10-point deficit was standing between Tarleton’s chances to end a 10-year drought and return to the NCAA Division II semifinals.
But the Texans rose to the challenge and outscored Mount Olive 44-28 in the second half to advance to the semis with a convincing 77-59 victory.
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Tarleton, making its second semifinal appearance in school history, meets No. 25 Indiana (Pa.) Thursday at 6 p.m. The semifinals will be televised on CBS Sports Network as well as on an NCAA.com webcast.
With 9:49 left in the first half, Mount Olive built a 19-9 lead and Mo Lee, the South Central Regional Tournament MVP, had two fouls for the Texans.
In a game that featured two top 10 teams in the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009, the Texans didn’t panic at the situation, and instead, a pair of freshman shot the team back into contention. Deshawn Riddick and Nosa Ebomwonyi combined to score 11 points in a five-minute span, including a Riddick layup to tie the score at 29 with 2:59 left in the first half.
Riddick finished with nine points and two assists in 25 minutes off the bench.
Not only was Ebomwonyi called upon to be an offensive threat, but also reprised his defensive role of guarding the opposing team’s best player. The Texans held Dontrell Brite to five points, well below his 14 points per game average.
Michael Hardge’s free throw with 1:58 left in the first half gave the Texans their first lead at 30-29.
The Texans’ slow start was credited to their 8-of-20 shooting out of the gate, while Mount Olive shot a sizzling 60 percent from the floor on their first twenty shots.
Coach Lonn Reisman made his half-time defensive adjustments and the Texans forced Mount Olive into an offensive slump. Mount Olive went without a field goal for eight minutes in the second half while the Texans capitalized with a 15-1 run that pulled Tarleton away for good.
After only scoring three points in the first half, Lee came out reenergized to pour in 12 second-half points for the Texans and finish with a team-high 15 points along with five rebounds and three assists.
With the shot clock winding down, Lee sank a deep 3-pointer right in front of the Tarleton bench as the shot clock buzzer sounded to give the Texans a 58-51 lead.
The Texans responded in the second half by shooting 66 percent from the field and 52 percent on the game. Tarleton improves to 16-0 on the season when they shoot at least 50 percent.
Senior Davene Carter continued to be the rim protector that the Texans need to solidify their defense-first mentality. Carter was one of four Texans to score in double figures, tallying 12 points and pulling down a team-best six rebounds.
The 6-foot-6 Carter electrified the crowd and his Texan teammates with his jaw-dropping dunks, including an alley-oop reverse slam that lead to a Mount Olive timeout in the opening minutes of the second half.
Malcolm Hamilton came in averaging nine points and four rebounds per game and the junior’s box score mirrored his averages, finishing with nine points and four boards in 19 minutes for the Texans.
With the win, the Texans improved their record to 31-3 on the season — improving on the school senior-college era record for wins in a season. Tarleton will return to action Thursday night at 6 p.m. against Indiana (Pa.).