By Dave Wagner: CNJ sports writer
With a little help from rival West Texas A&M Wednesday night, the Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball team could have clinched a berth in next week’s Lone Star Conference tournament.
It didn’t happen. Midwestern State stayed on ENMU’s heels by edging the Buffaloes 82-79 at Wichita Falls, meaning the Greyhounds must win one of two remaining regular-season games — tonight at first-place Tarleton State or Saturday night at Midwestern — to claim the division’s fourth and final berth in the tourney.
ENMU (11-14, 5-5 South) faces the nationally-ranked Texans in a 7 p.m. (MST) tipoff at Stephenville, Texas. Women’s teams play in the first half of the twin bill.
Midwestern (16-10, 5-6) can now wrest the No. 4 spot away from the Hounds by winning Saturday’s contest — unless ENMU upends Tarleton (21-4, 10-0) tonight.
Still, coach Shawn Scanlan said before the team left for Stephenville on Wednesday that he was more concerned with how the Hounds were playing than the result of the WT-Midwestern game.
Eastern put itself in position to make the tournament with home wins over Angelo State and Abilene Christian last week.
“We’re in as good of shape as we can be,” he said. “Last week, we had to do some things (to help themselves) and we did.
“I think we’re playing better now than we have at any point this season.”
Tarleton moved up six places to No. 6 in this week’s NCAA Division II national poll, and is ranked second in the South Central Region behind Southwest Baptist.
The Hounds know they have their work cut out against the Texans, who won the South title with WT’s loss. Tonight’s task will be even tougher because ENMU left junior post Mikal Monette at home to rest a knee injury.
Scanlan said Monette, averaging 12 points and a team-leading seven rebounds, tweaked his knee in Saturday’s game against Abilene Christian. He said he’s hopeful Monette can play Saturday at Midwestern.
“Mikal’s been a major part of our success, for sure,” Scanlan said.
The Hounds played well in a narrow loss at home to Tarleton in January.
“We really haven’t been a good road team yet, and that’s something we’re going to have to figure out if we do make it into the postseason,” he said. “But I think this team’s come a long way. We really have gotten better as the year has gone on.”
ENMU’s women (10-16, 2-10) have competed well most of the season despite major injuries, and are hoping for a strong finish. Meantime, the TexAnns (18-7, 10-2) can share the South title with WT and earn the division’s top seed in the LSC tourney by beating ENMU and then completing a regular-season sweep of the Lady Buffs on Saturday in Canyon.
The Zias didn’t play particularly well in the first meeting, a 67-47 loss at Greyhound Arena.
“They’re playing for something,” Zias coach Dan Buzard said of the TexAnns. “They may overlook us, but I think we’ll be ready for them.
“We just want to finish the season strong. I think if we go over there and play well, we can give them a battle.”