By Dave Wagner
Two big rivals had some trouble generating the usual energy for each other Monday night.
But with postseason ramifications on the line for West Texas A&M, the Buffaloes found just enough gas in their tank to outlast Eastern New Mexico University 81-78 in a Lone Star Conference South Division matchup at Greyhound Arena.
WT (13-13, 7-4 South) has already clinched one of the division’s four berths in next week’s LSC Tournament, but the Buffs are trying to move up — possibly as high as second place to earn a first-round home game.
Meantime, the two-time defending South champion Hounds (9-17, 2-9) have gone through a tough year, and simply haven’t had quite enough to overcome their problems in several games.
“We’re just a few mistakes away,” ENMU coach Shawn Scanlan said. “We had the game in a position where we could’ve won it, but we had enough lapses in the middle of the second half that it was hard for us to overcome.”
Carlos Silva, WT’s 6-foot-8 senior post from Brazil, worked his way inside for easy basket after easy basket and finished with 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting.
Senior forward Jamaal Hunnicutt continued his yeoman work for the Greyhounds, scoring a career-high 30 points on 11-of-13 shooting and grabbing 13 rebounds. With 1,292 points, he’s within 24 points — with one game left — of reaching the school’s top 10 all-time scoring list.
“(Hunnicutt) had a phenomenal game,” Scanlan said. “It’s the way he has to play for us to have a chance. He gave us exactly what we needed.”
Hunnicutt, senior guard Irshaun Pinckney and junior guard Jolen Montoya played all or nearly all the way for ENMU. Montoya scored 14 points while Pinckney, coming off a hairline fracture in his leg last month which sidelined him for eight games, finished with 13.
Meantime, 11 Buffs played at least 10 minutes with no one playing more than 23 except for senior guard Carl Lamb’s 32 minutes. Lamb was WT’s only other double-figure scorer, finishing with 11 points.
“Eastern New Mexico is a team that’s beat up, and they were playing for different reasons than we were,” WT coach Rick Cooper said. “It was a difficult road swing for both teams.
“This was a game that wasn’t over until there were zeros on the clock.”
Scanlan said he was concerned about his depth-thin squad’s energy level going into the game.
“Everything considered, I thought our energy was pretty good,” he said.
Scanlan drew a technical just over six minutes into the game with the Buffs leading by five. Soon after, ENMU scored 11 consecutive points to open a 24-19 lead.
The Hounds led by six points twice early in the second half, but WT outscored them 21-7 with the help of 3-pointers by Richard Higginbotham and Carl Lamb to move in front 59-51 with 10 minutes left.
ENMU went to pressure down the stretch. Trailing 68-57 with under four minutes left, they closed to 77-74 on two free throws by Hunnicutt with 55.2 seconds go to after forcing WT into two backcourt turnovers.
The Buffs then got two free throws each from Kyle Shields and Silva the rest of the way, offsetting a last-second 3-pointer from a couple of steps inside midcourt by Montoya.
Lone Star Conference South
West Texas A&M 81, ENMU 78
West Texas A&M (13-13, 7-4) — Carl Lamb 4-8 2-4 11, Jason Campbell 1-2 0-0 2, Carlos Silva 11-14 3-3 25, Kyle Shields 1-2 4-4 6, Jarvis Brown 2-3 0-1 5, Govinda Thomas-Carter 2-4 0-1 5, Ronnie Holmes 1-4 3-4 5, Jordanas Mejeras 0-2 0-0 0, Steve Jackson 1-2 4-6 6, Richard Higginbotham 3-5 0-0 8, Jamil Terrell 4-10 0-4 8. Totals 30-56 16-27 81.
Eastern New Mexico (9-17, 2-9) — Irshaun Pinckney 5-11 2-4 13, Jamaal Hunnicutt 11-13 8-9 30, Chad Donnell 4-7 0-0 8, Reggie Wallace 1-6 3-4 5, Jolen Montoya 5-9 2-2 14, Aaron Rodriguez 1-3 0-0 3, Daniel Sherman 1-1 2-3 4, Edmound Elzy 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 28-51 18-24 78
Halftime — Eastern New Mexico 37, West Texas A&M 34. 3-pointers — West Texas A&M 5-15 (Higginbotham 2-3, Brown 1-1, Thomas-Carter 1-3, Lamb 1-4, Campbell 0-1, Holmes 0-1, Mejeras 0-2), Eastern New Mexico 4-12 (Montoya 2-4, Rodriguez 1-2, Pinckney 1-4, Elzy 0-1, Wallace 0-1). Rebounds — West Texas A&M 32 (Terrell 11), Eastern New Mexico 23 (Hunnicutt 13). Assists — West Texas A&M (Higginbotham 5), Eastern New Mexico 15 (Montoya 4). Total fouls — West Texas A&M 21, Eastern New Mexico 22. Fouled out — Higginbotham, Wallace. Technicals — Eastern New Mexico bench. A — 810.