By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
In anticipation its home matchup against division leader West Texas A&M this weekend, Tarleton State wasted little time in Portales proving why they’re the nationally-ranked Lady Buffs’ top challenger.
Brittnie Haley led three in double figures with 18 points, and the 24th-ranked TexAnns put forth a dominant defensive effort in the first half en route to a a 64-50 win over the Eastern New Mexico University Zias in a Lone Star Conference South game Wednesday at Greyhound Arena.
JoAnne Jones added 15 and Shelby Adamson 10 for the TexAnns (19-4, 6-2 LSC South), who never trailed and established a 36-20 halftime cushion by holding the Zias without a basket for eight minutes.
The Zias (6-17, 1-7) rallied to cut it to 45-37 on a Cat Clay 3-pointer with 13:40 left, but the TexAnns held ENMU scoreless for the next 6:38 to put comeback hopes on ice.
“We had a really solid first half, especially the last eight minutes,” Tarleton State coach Ronnie Hearne said. “Eastern’s too well-coached and they play hard. I knew we’d go through some adversity.”
Zia coach Linden Weese said he couldn’t complain after holding one of the South’s top teams to 64 points, but they dug themselves too deep of a hole in the first 20 minutes.
“As disappointed as I was in the first half, I was just as satisfied with the second half,” Weese said. “If we played both halves like that, it would have been a good ballgame.
“We played scared in the first half; second half, I didn’t think that.”
The TexAnns hassled the Zias into 30 percent shooting on the night, including a 24 percent first half. If the Zias got past the first layer of guard Shelby Adamson (three steals), they still had to rush shots against the interior defense of Haley, who had six blocks.
“We felt like we had the players to pressure them,” Hearne said. “We felt like we had to use it.”
Hearne said the other key was keeping defenders on Clay, who led the Zias with 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting.
Weese praised the play of his backcourt, with Vanessa O’Neal scoring 10 points to go with four steals and Tori Northcutt finishing with nine points and seven assists.
“We’ve made progress,” Weese said. “We just don’t have the wins to show for it.”
The TexAnns host the Lady Buffs Saturday, while Eastern is on the road at Midwestern State. The Zias claimed their only division win against the Mustangs, 70-56 on Jan. 23.
“They’re hoping they can get even,” Weese said. “We’re thinking we want to get another one.”