By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
East Central gave up nearly 100 points Saturday, but the Tigers won and coach Terry Shannon said it was primarily because of defense.
Guards Maurice Abraham, Wayne Andrews and Eric Allen combined for 78 points and the Tigers pulled away late in the half, holding on down the stretch for a 109-98 victory over Eastern New Mexico University in a Lone Star Conference men’s crossover game at Greyhound Arena.
East Central (2-2), coming off a 119-111 loss in three overtimes at West Texas A&M, came into Saturday’s game scoring 100.3 points per outing and giving up 96. Shannon, though, said the Tigers defended better than they had been and also did the job on the backboards with a 41-33 advantage, led by 17 rebounds from Andrews.
“We weren’t defending these first few games, and we just got beat to death on the boards,” Shannon said. “We’ve gotten to where we play better every game, and it’s all because of our defense and rebounding.
“We’re getting better at sharing the ball. We’ve got a little bit of athleticism and some kids that want to win, but we’ve got to keep working at it.”
Still, it didn’t hurt that the Tigers lit up ENMU to the tune of 56 percent from the floor, including 10-of-23 from 3-point range. Allen was 6-for-10 from long distance, including four in an early two-minute span that turned an 11-7 deficit into a 21-15 lead.
Allen finished 7-of-15 overall from the floor, while Abraham was 13-of-20 and Andrews — who also had a team-high six assists — went 8-of-11.
“Those three guys all played more than 50 minutes the other night (at WT),” Shannon pointed out.
ENMU (4-3) scored easily a season high, shooting 50 percent from the field (33-of-66) and downing 25-of-32 free throws. But the Hounds simply couldn’t keep pace.
“They’re good, and they played good,” ENMU coach Andrew Helton said of the Tigers. “And we just didn’t defend in stretches like we needed to.”
Early foul problems on inside mainstays Tyler Jefferson and Dannon Wafer also caused problems, forcing both to the bench for significant minutes.
“I thought our kids battled and played hard,” Helton said. “Unfortunately, when you (East Central) hit shots, it’s a tough matchup for us.”
Leading by three points, East Central outscored the Hounds 21-10 over the final 5 1/2 minutes of the half, then extended the lead to 19 points twice early in the second period.
The Hounds, who have defended well for the most part in previous games, then picked up their defense for a time and pulled to within four down the stretch. But they ran out of gas.
Junior guard Reggie Nelson, who had scored 32 points through four games before getting 18 in Thursday’s 67-63 loss to Southeastern Oklahoma, went off for 27 points against the Tigers on 10-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-11 from 3-point distance. He had 19 points in the second half.
Senior guard Jimmie Marshall finished with 18 points and seven assists. Jefferson scored 15 points in 26 minutes before fouling out, while Wafer added 10 off the bench in 19 minutes.