By Dave Wagner
Junior guard Jermart Miller exploded for five 3-pointers in a span of two minutes, 10 seconds late in the second half Thursday night to lift Texas A&M-Commerce to a hard-fought 97-90 Lone Star Conference South Division men’s victory over Eastern New Mexico University at Greyhound Arena.
The Lions (14-3, 1-1 South), ranked 13th overall in NCAA Division II and No. 1 in the South Central Region, had their hands full all night with the shorthanded Greyhounds (7-9, 0-1), who were without the services of three injured regulars and had just nine bodies available, including three walkons.
Miller’s barrage helped Commerce cut an 11-point deficit to 87-86 with 3:16 left. Miller, who finished with a game-high 29 points, then tied the score 88-88 with a 15-footer before the Lions took the lead for good at 92-90 on a driving shot by Allen Walker with one minute left.
Commerce went 5-of-6 from the free throw line in the remaining time to sew it up, including 3-of-4 by 6-foot-10 junior Nick Goellner — who was 6-of-18 for the season to that point.
ENMU, which put its five starters in double figures led by senior forward Jamaal Hunnicutt’s 20 points, had played close to a flawless game until the end. But coach Shawn Scanlan noted that the Hounds, who surpassed their previous season scoring high of 83 points, turned the ball over three consecutive times during Miller’s late run.
“The turnovers jumped up and got us at the worst possible time,” Scanlan said. “We played well in the first half and for a lot of the second half, but those turnovers really hurt us.”
Commerce had to work hard to keep up with ENMU most of the night. The Lions shot 56 percent from the field, turned the ball over just 13 times and made 15-of-17 free throws — both misses by Goeller.
They also hit 12-of-24 from 3-point range, including 6-of-8 for the 5-foot-8 Miller.
“He had a big-time game; he’s a big-time player,” Scanlan said. “(But) it’s tough (to win) when a kid is averaging 15.8 (points) and gets 29 on you.”
ENMU moved in front 32-28 lead with 6:39 left in the half after a 9-0 run capped by junior guard Reggie Wallace’s 3-pointer. The Hounds were up 50-43 at halftime and stayed in control until the Miller-led surge by Commerce.
“I thought their guys played harder than we did,” Lions coach Sam Walker said. “I’m very impressed with what Shawn has done with his kids. (Miller) just got on a role, and that changed the game.”
Jamal Washington (broken hand), Irshaun Pinckney (ankle) and Daniel Sherman (back) all watched from the bench in street clothes. Scanlan said he isn’t sure when any of them will be able to return.
“This is definitely a game we can build on,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to play a 40-minute game, but I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played for 34.”
Junior Jason Breland, who fouled out in the closing seconds, finished with 19 points for ENMU while Wallace added 18 points and eight assists. Guard Jolen Montoya scored 17 and forward Edmound Elzy added 12.
“Reggie played as well as he has all year long,” Scanlan said.
Senior guard Matt Rager added 18 points for the Lions. Junior forwardChris Fantroy scored 14, and Walker added 10.
Lone Star Conference South
Texas A&M-Commerce 97, ENMU 90
Texas A&M-Commerce (14-3, 1-1) — Chris Fantroy 6-8 0-0 14, Matt Rager 7-14 3-3 18, Jonathan Hopkins 2-2 0-0 5, Jermart Miller 10-14 3-3 29, Allen Walker 3-5 4-4 10, Jason Rabb 0-4 0-0 0, Kevin Walker1-2 0-0 3, Nick Goellner 3-8 3-5 9, Kevin Carter 2-4 2-2 7, Brandon Bowie 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 35-63 17-19 97.
Eastern New Mexico (7-9, 0-1) — Jason Breland 8-14 2-2 19, Jamaal Hunnicutt 7-11 6-9 20, Edmound Elzy 3-7 5-6 12, Reggie Wallace 5-8 6-6 18, Jolen Montoya 5-15 4-4 17, Ean Forrest 0-0 0-0 0, Chad Donnell 2-2 0-2 4. Totals 30-57 23-29 90.
Halftime — Eastern New Mexico 50, Texas A&M-Commerce 43. 3-pointers — Texas A&M-Commerce 12-24 (Miller 6-8, Fantroy 2-3, Hopkins 1-1, K. Walker 1-2, Carter 1-3, Rager 1-5, Rabb 0-2), Eastern New Mexico 7-23 (Montoya 3-10, Wallace 2-4, Breland 1-4, Elzy 1-5). Rebounds — Texas A&M-Commerce 34 (Goellner 7), Eastern New Mexico 27 (Hunnicutt 7). Assists — Texas A&M-Commerce 14 (Miller 4), Eastern New Mexico 17 (Wallace 8). Total fouls — Texas A&M-Commerce 21, Eastern New Mexico 19. Fouled out — Fantroy, Breland. Technicals — Fantroy, Hopkins, Carter, Breland. A — 1,048.