Eastern New Mexico University’s Rosalyn Elliott dives over Tarleton State’s Kimberly Smith during a battle for a loose ball during the first half of Wednesday’s game in Portales. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — Guard Katie Crawford led a balanced attack with 14 points and Tarleton State overcame a sluggish first half to beat Eastern New Mexico University 67-47 on Wednesday night in Lone Star Conference South Division women’s basketball at Greyhound Arena.
The TexAnns (13-5, 5-0 South) maintained a half game lead over West Texas A&M in the South heading into a Saturday night matchup at home against the Lady Buffs. WT beat visiting Midwestern State 72-46 on Wednesday.
“Since Tarleton State went to Division II (in the early 1990s), it’ll probably be the biggest game they’ve ever had,” said TexAnns coach Ronnie Hearne, whose team is enjoying its best conference start since joining the LSC in 1991. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Tarleton didn’t get much of a challenge from the Zias (8-10, 0-4) until well into the second half, and by that time the TexAnns had a 20-point lead.
“I didn’t think we came in with the energy we needed to have to win tonight,” ENMU women’s coach Dan Buzard said. “I thought we played hard until the end, but Tarleton executed and did what they needed to get shots.”
Senior center Isha Brown added 13 points and 11 rebounds, pacing Tarleton to a 45-31 domination of the glass. Guard Kimberly Smith scored 12 points.
The Zias, meantime, got 23 points from junior guard Heather Brown and 12 from sophomore guard Erika Cook. But leading scorer Tiana Bryant went scoreless until more than three minutes had elapsed in the second half, missing her first 10 shots from the field, and finished with just eight points.
“We tried to run our stuff,” Buzard said. “We got shots, but we just didn’t execute.”
The Zias erased an early 6-0 deficit with six consecutive points, but never could overtake the TexAnns.
Both teams labored mightily on offense in the first half, but Tarleton opened a double-figure lead on consecutive 3-pointers by Crawford and Smith with just under three minutes left before intermission. The TexAnns had gone just 1-for-9 from long range until that time.
The Zias had only three players in the scoring column at intermission, led by Brown with 10 points.
ENMU continued to struggle when play resumed, falling behind by as much as 21 points early in the half. Down 46-26, the Zias went on a 7-0 run that forced Hearne to call a timeout with 9:25 left, but the TexAnns got a 3-pointer from Crawford and a basket from Katie Franklin off a turnover when play resumed.
“I didn’t think it was over until about 3 1/2 minutes left,” Hearne said. “I knew (Eastern wasn’t) going to go away.”
After shooting 21 percent in the first half, the Zias warmed up down the stretch. They hit 13-of-27 second-half attempts, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers, but were unable to get closer than 11 points.