CNJ staff photo: Liliana Castillo Eastern senior guard Alan Branch keeps the ball despite West Texas senior guard Joe Mincey’s best efforts during the first half.
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University’s men survived a brutal eight-day stretch to win four games in a row.
Saturday night against rival West Texas A&M, the Greyhounds simply didn’t have a fifth one in them.
Playing efficiently on both ends of the floor, WT held the Hounds to their second-lowest point total of the season and posted a 74-54 victory in the Lone Star Conference South Division and regular-season finale for both teams at Greyhound Arena.
Senior guard LaDarius Hall scored 18 points, junior guard Lionel Foster hit 11-of-11 free throws and finished with 15 points and seven assists while sophomore forward Mason White added 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds in only his sixth start of the season for the Buffaloes (22-5, 9-5 South).
Despite the loss, ENMU (13-13, 8-6) clinched its first Lone Star Conference tournament berth in five years as the division’s No. 4 seed when Angelo State lost to Tarleton State 58-44. The Hounds face North champion Central Oklahoma in a 1:30 p.m. (MST) quarterfinal game on Thursday at Bartlesville, Okla.
West Texas A&M tied for second with Midwestern State, but will go in as the No. 2 seed from the South and face Cameron.
ENMU coach Andrew Helton said his team was spent after a four-overtime game at Angelo and a three-day, two-game trip to east Texas.
“We just didn’t have it tonight,” Helton said. “They’ve (Buffs) got a good team, and they were able to stay home this week and prepare for this game.
“We did our best to prepare. I thought defensively we did well early, but we just couldn’t buy a shot.”
ENMU shot 32 percent for the game, including 4-of-19 from 3-point range. The Hounds missed 13 3-pointers in a row from early in the first half until the middle of the second.
The Buffs, meantime, shot 49 percent on 23-of-47 and, led by Foster, were 22-of-29 from the foul line. WT crushed the Hounds on the boards 43-24.
“We knew we had to play well to win here,” WT coach Rick Cooper said. “Andrew’s done an extraordinary job; they struggled a little bit early (in the season), but he’s got them playing hard.”
Junior forwards Aaron Edwards and Max Carrier led ENMU with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Trailing 33-21 at halftime after going 7-for-30 from the floor, the Hounds were only able to get as close as nine once early in the second half.
UCO beat ENMU 103-85 at Greyhound Arena just before the Christmas break. Helton said he wants to give his players some time to get their legs back.
“They’re very good, but we didn’t play very well against them here,” he said of the Bronchos. “We’re going to have to play better, but we’ll be ready to play.”