By Dave Wagner
For the Eastern New Mexico University Greyhounds, Monday night’s Lone Star Conference men’s crossover game against East Central was like pulling teeth.
With one starter out, another coming down sick at halftime and the team’s standout player ailing with bruised ribs, the Tigers controlled tempo most of the way before a 12-0 Hounds’ run over the final 4:45 lifted Eastern to a 50-41 victory.
Fouled on a 3-point shot, junior guard Kennis Green converted all three free throws with 3:39 left to put the Hounds in front for good at 43-41, then followed it up with a 3-pointer on the next trip down as ENMU finally pulled away.
The Hounds (9-3) scored the final 12 points and extended their winning streak to seven, but it was tougher than expected against an opponent which was routed at West Texas A&M 78-33 on Saturday night.
“We struggled as a team,” admitted Green, who went 3-for-11 from 3-point range against the Tigers’ 3-2 zone defense but still finished with a team-leading 13 points. “I usually help my team more than that, but I’ll take the win.
“We’re going to try to come back tomorrow (in practice) and get better.”
Jason Wilkerson, the LSC North Division’s preseason player of the year, was obviously hampered after bruising several ribs in a midcourt collision at WT. The Hounds held him to 10 points total — half his average — and only two free throws in the second half.
ECU (5-7) led 25-24 at halftime and kept the game close most of the way, but didn’t have enough at the end to pull it out.
“Our kids fought hard,” ECU coach Terry Shannon said. “Eastern New Mexico is a really good basketball team, and they made plays down the stretch to win it.
“We’ve been trying to find a style, and I’ve made up my mind that we have to try to slow teams down to have a chance. I think we found something tonight that’s really going to fit us.”
In addition to Wilkerson, starting point guard Larry Smith (toe injury) did not play, and starting guard Karlin House sat out the second half with flu-like symptoms that Shannon thought came from something his player had eaten.
Senior Garland Coleman added 11 points while junior Irshaun Pinckney came off the bench for 10. Pinckney’s rebound basket with 4:29 left pulled Eastern within 41-40 and started the game-ending streak.
“They probably showed zone twice at WT,” Green said. “When we started trapping them the last five minutes or so, that’s when we got some stops.”
Once Green had opened a lead, Pinckney clinched the win by hitting four free throws with 2:12 left after ECU’s Juan Avila was called for an over-the-back foul, then drew an intentional foul when he shoved Pinckney to the floor.
“I thought Irshaun played real well tonight,” ENMU coach Shawn Scanlan said. “Irshaun is a good zone player; he reads the zone and attacks it well.”
Scanlan said the Hounds didn’t try to make the Tigers play faster because all-out pressure defense simply isn’t their style.
“All in all, we didn’t defend badly,” he said. “I thought we gave up some second-chance points we shouldn’t have, but any time you hold a team to 16 points in a half, you haven’t played bad defense.”