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Hounds get set for NCAA regional tourney

Mar. 12—FRISCO, Texas — Eastern New Mexico University's men were in pretty good shape to make the NCAA Division II South Central regional no matter what happened in last week's Lone Star Conference tournament.

The fourth-seeded Greyhounds left no doubt, though, winning the event on Sunday and taking the league's automatic bid as senior point guard Lyron Bennett capped a 9-0 run over the final 45 seconds with a 3-point buzzer-beater for a 91-88 victory over third-seeded Lubbock Christian.

It's the school's second LSC tourney title and first since 1993. ENMU (22-9) is slated to face Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference regular-season champion and tournament runnerup Colorado Mesa (27-4, 21-1 RMAC), the third seed, at 11 a.m. (MDT) on Saturday in the first of four quarterfinal matchups in the regional at Canyon.

Bennett's buzzer-beater, his second 3 of the contest, gave ENMU its eighth win in a row and seventh consecutive game of 90 or more points. The Hounds have 18 such games this season, including 12 in which they've gone over the 100-point mark.

"I'm so thankful for these guys," ENMU men's coach Brent Owen said. "The reason we won that game is because they believed they could win."

It was the third time the Hounds have beaten Lubbock Christian (23-10) this season. The Chaparrals were one of five LSC teams to make the regional, and will face second-seeded Fort Lewis (28-3) in the quarterfinals on Saturday.

Other first-round matchups have fourth-seeded Dallas Baptist (24-5) against No. 5 Colorado School of Mines (24-8), and top-seeded host West Texas A&M (26-4) against No. 8 Angelo State (19-10). Semifinals are on Monday with the championship game the following night.

ENMU is eighth in Division II with 90.4 ppg, and ranks second with 42 percent shooting from 3-point distance.

Mesa is coming off a loss to Fort Lewis in the RMAC tourney finals.

Trailing 88-82 after two free throws by LCU freshman guard Ethan Duncan in the final minute, the Hounds rallied on a 3-point play by senior guard/forward Jahcoree Ealy with 38 seconds left. They forced two of just six LCU turnovers for the game in the remaining time, with senior guard Greg Johnson's basket making it 88-87 with 26 seconds left and Ealy then converting the second of two free throws to tie it with 15 seconds to go.

LCU's Najeeb Muhammad missed a jumper and ENMU junior forward Mario Whatley cleared the rebound to Bennett, who opted to shoot the 3 from the top of the key with time running out.

"I felt good coming into the tournament," Owen said. "This is a brotherly love that they have. When you're fighting for someone you love, you're willing to give the extra inch."

Ealy, the LSC regular-season scoring champion, tallied 21 points and was named the tournament's most valuable player, while sophomore forward Jose Murillo went 7-for-7 from the floor and 6-of-7 from the foul line for 20 points.

Senior guard Greg Johnson (18 points) and Bennett (12 points, eight rebounds, four assists) were also named to the five-man all-tournament team with Ealy. ENMU shot 56 percent from the floor, including 6-of-9 from distance, and converted 27-of-31 from the foul line.

The Hounds also posted a 36-26 margin over the Chaps on the glass. Duncan led LCU with 22 points, senior guard Kurt Wegscheider added 18 and Muhammad and senior guard/forward Tiras Morton chipped in 14 apiece.

ENMU, which is 3-1 all-time against Mesa, has faced five of the other teams in the regional, posting a combined 6-5 record in those games. Six of the Hounds' losses have been by four points or less.

ENMU 91, Cameron 81 (Saturday, semifinals) — The Hounds advanced to the championship with a tight win over the eighth-seeded Aggies, who upended West Texas A&M in overtime the night before.

Ealy scored 23 points on 9-of-12 shooting while also contributing six rebounds, two assists and two steals, and Whitley added 18 points and seven boards. Murillo had another good effort with 16 points, six rebounds and three blocks, while Johnson collected 14 points and seven caroms.

Neither team led by more than eight points until Whitley converted a pair of free throws with four seconds to play.

Cameron (18-12) had four players in double figures, led by reserve Jaxon Ingram with 18 points in 26 minutes. While the score was tied eight times, the Aggies were never able to take the lead.

Despite going 1-for-8 from distance, the Hounds again played an efficient game. They shot 54 percent from the floor (33-of-61), converted 24-for-30 from the foul line and committing just eight turnovers.