ALLEN — With each team searching for its offense throughout the game, it seemed as if whichever team could summon any extended stretches of scoring was bound to take control of game.
The Pioneers found their run, but it came too late after Tarleton State had delivered a few of its own, including a 10-0 run midway through the second as the TexAnns defeated TWU 61-46 in the semifinals of the Women’s Lone Star Conference tournament at the Allen Event Center on Friday.
“I thought they played a good game,” TWU head coach Beth Jillson said of the TexAnns. “They definitely battled it out. For us, I thought we did enough defensively to win the game, holding them to 61 points and especially Kiara Wright to nine points. Offensively, we had a lot of woes. We struggled to make some easy shots, and we struggled from the free-throw line, which really hasn’t been like us.”
TWU’s defense held the TexAnns to 30.4 percent shooting for the game, but their offense didn’t do them any favors, shooting just 31.8 percent from the floor with senior Rebekah Cluley as the only Pioneer in double figures with a game-high 19 points.
“They did a good job of getting up and pressuring our guards,” Jillson said. “We had a lot of turnovers in the first half . Some of them weren’t forced. Some of them were unforced turnovers, which you can’t have that lead to the other end. We’re usually better. We’re a better team than we felt like today and that’s the disappointing part.
“If you would have shown me the stats, I would have thought we would have won the game, but it wasn’t enough.”
TWU (16-12) made a concerted effort to lock down Kiara Wright, the LSC’s leading scorer, coming into Friday’s game averaging 20.7 points. She went 3-for-13 from the floor for just nine points.
“I tried to play my best on defense, but it wasn’t good enough,” said TWU senior Mary Kovtun, who broke her previous career high of six blocks with a LSC tournament record eight. “I tried to stop Kiara because she’s the leading scorer in the LSC, but it wasn’t enough. ... It’s always easier to play against big post players than like against [Texas A&M] Kingsville. They are a lot shorter and like guards, so it was a lot easier to defend the size.”
Fighting to finish off possessions, the Pioneers were outmatched on the glass as the TexAnns (21-7) held a 45-32 rebounding advantage, including 18 on offense which contributed to 14 second-chance points.
“They do a really good job on the glass, especially their guards [Brianna] Bledsoe and [Raven] McGrath,” Jillson said. “They had 10 offensive rebounds [together] and that’s just kind of a momentum killer when you play great defense and then you give up an offensive board. They did a good job of making us defend for another 30 seconds.”
The Pioneers started off looking to get to the basket and were able to hang close to the TexAnns through the first few minutes with Ashley Salazar’s driving layup pulling TWU to within 11-9, but Tarleton State feasted off turnovers to jolt ahead on a 12-0 run.
The TexAnns scored 13 points off 12 TWU first-half turnovers, including six steals, while going 9-for-14 from the free-throw line. All that added up to a 33-21 lead at the half despite shooting 33.3 percent from the floor — the same as the Pioneers.
Cluley helped get the Pioneers to the free-throw line, where they went 17-of-27, but when she got in foul trouble, TWU didn’t get the scoring contributions from the rest of the starters or bench like they did in the quarterfinals against Kingsville.
“They’re tough,” Cluely said. “We didn’t get stops when we needed them, and we didn’t score when we really needed to. It just wasn’t good enough. ... I’m kind of used to foul trouble, so it was nothing new. They played good defense.”
TWU crept to within 40-28 after four straight points early in the second half, but they couldn’t hold their momentum long enough as the TexAnns seized control of the game with a 10-0 run to claim a 50-28 lead. Tarleton State cruised from there and will now play for the tournament title against the winner of West Texas A&M and Midwestern State.
The loss may have put a damper on the Pioneers’ spirits, but with Thursday’s win helping them hopefully maintain their eighth-place spot in the regional rankings, they hope to still be playing next weekend in the NCAA South Central Regionals, which most likely will be held at top-seeded West Texas A&M in Canyon.
“We like to control the things we can control so we knew we needed to get the win today, and we just wanted to get a conference championship,” Jillson said. “Now we have to rely on some other teams let the chips fall where they may, but hopefully we’ve done enough.”
“I didn’t say bye to the seniors and I didn’t say bye to this team, because I believe we’re going to be in that regional tournament. I don’t want to say bye to them. Hopefully, we’ll get another chance and we’ll remember this feeling.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873 and via Twitter at @PatrickHayslip.