By Dave Wagner
Southwestern Oklahoma beat Eastern New Mexico University during the regular season, but needed help Saturday just to get into the Lone Star Conference men’s basketball tournament.
The stakes are higher this time as SWOSU prepare to invade Greyhound Arena for today’s 7 p.m. first-round game today against the two-time LSC South Division champion.
“We’re very excited about having the opportunity to play in the conference tournament,” first-year SWOSU coach Scott Reed said. “We know we’re going to get a challenge in the Eastern New Mexico team. They’ve been one of the most consistent teams in our conference, and we know we’re going to have our hands full.”
The Greyhounds (20-7) were forced to win their final three games to stave off Texas A&M-Kingsville for the division title after losing to the Javelinas at home on Feb. 19.
“I think we started our playoffs two weeks ago after we played Kingsville,” ENMU junior forward Jamaal Hunnicutt said. “Every game since then has been like a playoff game.
“We’re looking for a competitive game. We’ve got to come out and play harder than we did in the first game (against SWOSU).”
SWOSU (17-10), which lost Saturday to Central Oklahoma, gained the North’s No. 4 seed only after Southeastern Oklahoma lost at home Saturday night in overtime to division champion Tarleton State 87-80.
Keeping the tempo relatively slow, the Bulldogs edged Eastern 51-49 in a January crossover game at Weatherford, Okla. ENMU was held to 39 percent field goal shooting in posting its second-lowest point total of the season.
“You hope you play a little bit better, but they (Bulldogs) have something to say about that,” ENMU coach Shawn Scanlan said of tonight’s contest. “It’ll be a battle of wills. We’re going to have to get the game going our way.”
Eastern, which averages 75 points a game, prefers a more uptempo style.
Reed, an assistant last year on Northeastern’s NCAA Division II championship squad, noted that his team has generally been up-and-down this season.
“We’ve played well some nights, and poorly on others,” he said. “Our lack of experience has shown in our inconsistency.
“I think there’s a lot of similarities between us and Eastern New Mexico. Our front line is a little undersized, but I think we’re pretty athletic.”
A relatively small but quick team, Southwestern got off to a fast start this season but comes in having lost five of its last eight.
“I would anticipate a hard-fought game,” Reed said. “Obviously, we’re going to have to show up with a focus and a determination to play our best. If we’re not ready to play, we’ll have no chance.”
Tarleton will host the semifinals and finals if it beats South No. 4 seed Midwestern State tonight. But if the Texans lose and ENMU wins, the final four would be played at Greyhound Arena for a second consecutive year.