Eastern New Mexico University freshman Joshua Jackson tries to get around Angelo State University’s Ronald Pittman during the first half of Wedneday’s Lone Star Conference South Division men’s game in Portales. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
PORTALES — After coming off the bench for a few games, Eastern New Mexico University junior forward Ira Cross got a chance to start again on Wednesday night.
His friend, Donald Young, also made a notable appearance.
The two former Alabama junior college rivals teamed up for 32 points and 14 rebounds as the Greyhounds boosted their chances of making the Lone Star Conference’s postseason tournament with a 97-80 LSC South Division drubbing of Angelo State at Greyhound Arena.
Cross finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in only 20 minutes, while Young led five Hounds in double figures with a season-best 17 points in just 22 minutes.
ENMU (10-14, 4-5 South) jumped into fourth place in the division when Midwestern State (15-10, 4-6) lost at Texas A&M-Kingsville 66-51. The top four teams from both divisions of the LSC will make the tournament.
The 6-foot-6 Cross has started 13 games this season, but seldom played with the abandon he did against the last-place Rams (8-17, 0-10).
“Coach (Shawn Scanlan) said if you go hard in practice, it’ll show up in games,” said Cross, a transfer from Gadsden State JC who came in averaging 6.2 points. “I’m still trying to get used to the league a little bit, coming from juco.
“I should’ve been stepping up already. I just haven’t been consistent.”
Scanlan said Cross’ play in practice this week earned him the start.
“Ira’s play mirrored what he’s done in practice the last three days,” Scanlan said. “When he’s aggressive and playing strong, he’s a good player.”
Young, who played at Southern Union State CC, was averaging only 3.3 points before Wednesday. The 6-7 forward was 8-for-13 from the field and added five rebounds against the Rams.
“He’s been going hard in practice all the time,” Cross said. “I hate guarding him in practice. We guard each other all the time, and we make each other better.”
ENMU scored the first four points and never relinquished the lead against a Rams team adjusting to the resignation of coach Joe Esposito last week. Assistant John Greene coached the team for the second game.
The Hounds rolled to a 28-11 lead in the first 8 1/2 minutes and, despite occasional bumps, were never seriously threatened. Angelo has lost eight in a row and 14 of 15, dating to a 111-65 loss at Division I North Texas on Dec. 19 in which the Rams — then 7-3 — fell behind 31-0 in less than 12 minutes.
Freshman guard Joshua Jackson, making just his fifth start, added 15 points and seven assists for the Hounds, while guards Jolen Montoya and Tristan Largent finished with 14 points apiece.
Junior forward Mikal Monette, meantime, fell just short of a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
“All in all, it was the kind of game we needed,” said Scanlan, whose team hosts Abilene Christian in its home finale on Saturday. “It was a good win for the right reasons.”
Senior guard Rashawn Childs led the Rams with 18 points, but 10 of them came in the final five-plus minutes. Sophomore forward Quinn Barfield had 13 points, and senior center Ronald Pittman finished with 10