By Dave Wganer: Freedom New Mexico
First-year Eastern New Mexico University men’s basketball coach Andrew Helton has seen his team play better on offense. Still, if the Greyhounds guard as well as they did on Saturday, he figures they’ll be in a lot of games.
The Hounds overcame Western State runs of 16-0 in the first half and 15-0 in the second to beat the Mountaineers 65-55 on Saturday at Greyhound Arena.
ENMU (3-1) countered Western’s State’s surges with second-half runs of 19-0 and 24-7, the latter to finish the game and erase a seven-point deficit.
“I thought we guarded well for the most part,” said Helton, whose team shot just 24 percent in the first half and 36 percent for the game. “You’ve got a chance to win the game when (you hold the opponent) to 38 percent.”
The Hounds, starting a four-game homestand, were in danger of being blown out when Western State (2-2) hit four 3-pointers in turning a 10-9 deficit into a 25-10 lead with five minutes left in the half.
Fortunately for ENMU, the Gunnison, Colo.-based Mountaineers struggled just enough to keep the Hounds in the game.
“We didn’t play very well,” Western State coach Mike Moskowitz said. “Our kids are young, and they made ‘young’ mistakes.
“We didn’t respond well at all (to ENMU’s challenges). But give credit to Eastern; they stayed with it and kept fighting.”
Junior forward Tyler Jefferson, who went to the bench early with two fouls and was limited to 25 minutes, finished with team highs of 12 points and seven rebounds for the Hounds. He also had a pair of blocks and two of the team’s 12 steals.
“The first five minutes after halftime (were key),” Jefferson said. “That was the turning point.
“Coming off foul trouble in the first half, I felt I had to redeem myself.”
Western State led 33-22 with under 18 minutes left when Jefferson scored on a drive to the basket. The Hounds held the Mountaineers scoreless for six minutes in opening a 41-33 lead.
Western State responded with its second long run to go up 48-41 with 7:48 to go.
Junior guard Tralyn Harden hit back-to-back 3-pointers to turn a 48-45 deficit into a 51-50 lead for the Hounds with 5:23 minutes left, and junior Alan Branch’s basket with just under four minutes to go put ENMU in front for good.
“We just knew we needed stops (in the second half),” Jefferson said. “We told everybody in the huddles that it’s really just about heart.”
Point guard Jimmie Marshall was Eastern’s only other double-figure scorer, finishing with 10 points and a game-high five assists. ENMU had only nine turnovers to 23 for the Mountaineers.
“That’s a good team; Mike’s a good coach,” Helton said of the Mountaineers. “They were up five at halftime (Monday at Division I Weber State), and they were down just two at halftime (in a preseason exhibition game against) Colorado State.”
Guard Weylan Towns had 12 points and forward Martin Graham added 10 for Western State.
ENMU continues the homestand on Monday with a 7 p.m. tipoff against Texas-Permian Basin.