By BRAD KEITH
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - JoAnne Jones may be Tarleton State's only senior, but she provided all the veteran leadership the TexAnns needed to secure their first Lone Star Conference tournament win in school history Thursday afternoon.
Jones scored 22 points, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots to help No. 25 Tarleton (23-5) stave off an upset bid by Texas Woman's (19-16) and advance to the tournament semifinals with a 71-66 win at Bruin Fieldhouse.
Seventh-year Tarleton head coach Ronnie Hearne said getting the school's first post season victory since joining NCAA Division II and the LSC in 1995 was the equivalent of having a monkey taken off his back.
"I thought about buying a stuffed monkey and letting the players knock it off my back after the game," Hearne joked during the post game press conference.
Hearne says the win is the program's biggest since he took over before the 2004-05 season.
"When you go back and look at a lot of the things we've accomplished - total wins, winning streaks and more - this very much tops the list," he said.
Tarleton, ranked fifth in the South Central Region, likely secured a bid to next week's regional tournament with its 23rd win, which is the most by the TexAnns since joining the NCAA.
Tarleton faces Northeastern State in a semifinal contest at noon Saturday. NSU, the No. 1 seed from the North Division, held off upset-minded Texas A&M-Kingsville 85-76 Thursday.
Tarleton defeated Northeastern 56-42 back on Dec. 3 in Stephenville.
The Pioneers' season ended in the loss after they won the most conference games (9) in school history.
"It does so much for our program just to make it (to the tournament)," said Texas Woman's head coach Beth Jillson. "This is the best team in Texas Woman's history. Now we have to go back and build on it for next season."
The TexAnns began the second half with a 17-3 run to turn a two-point halftime deficit into a 45-33 lead.
Morgan Stehling scored all seven of her points during the run. She also grabbed a team-leading eight rebounds.
Brittnie Haley netted six of her eight points in the decisive run. Haley filled out the stat sheet nicely with five rebounds, two blocks, two steals and a pair of assists.
Texas Woman's wouldn't go down easily, outscoring the TexAnns 16-7 over a seven minute span to pull within three at 52-49 with 6:53 left.
Tara Towns came off the bench and gave Tarleton a lift with a big 3-point shot to push the advantage back to six on the TexAnns' next possession.
Tarleton stretched the lead back to eight with a layup by Shelby Adamson at the 3:44 mark.
TWU chipped away and finally made it a three-point game again when Jessica Durr hit a pair of free throws with 19 seconds remaining, but Adamson put the Pioneers away when she finished the scoring with a pair of charity shots at the other end four seconds later.
Adamson finished with nine points, six assists and two steals.
Tarleton went 16-20 at the free throw line including 7-8 in the final minute.
Sonya Sundberg scored 11 points in the second half and finished with 14. She hit three of the last-minute free throws to help seal the win.
Texas Woman's had three players in double figures, led by Kayla Weaver with 15. Tiandrea Dixon tallied 12 and collected four steals, while Megan Hashman netted 11 to go with eight boards and three steals.
Hearne was pleased with the win, but said it was far from his team's best performance.
"I don't mean any disrespect to Texas Woman's, but I don't think we played particularly well," Hearne said. "We persevered through a lot in that game. We definitely had some (opening round) jitters, but I think now we have the first one out of the way we'll look more like ourselves (Saturday)."