By BRAD KEITH
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. - On a night when nothing seemed to click for Tarleton State, junior point guard Corin Henry saved the Texans.
Henry scored a season-high 29 points in 42 minutes of action and Tarleton (22-6) erased an 11-point deficit over the final seven minutes of regulation before knocking off Texas A&M-Commerce (19-9) 83-76 in overtime in the opening round of the Lone Star Conference championship at Bruin Fieldhouse.
"You talk about March Madness," said Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman. "If that wasn't madness, I don't know what is."
Tarleton, ranked sixth in the South Central Region, advances to the tournament semifinals to face either West Texas A&M, which upset Central Oklahoma 80-79 in the late game Wednesday.
The Texans and Buffaloes tip off at 8:30 p.m. Friday in their third meeting of the season. Tarleton swept the two regular-season contests.
The Lions led 54-43 after a layup with 7:01 on the clock, but Henry, who also had eight assists, scored seven points down the stretch to finish regulation with 26.
Henry got a steal and then passed ahead to Donta Smith for a dunk that made it a three-point game with 1:13 remaining.
TAMUC turned the ball over on the ensuing inbound pass and Henry found Bryant in the left corner for a a game-tying 3-ball with 1:09 left.
"Before we called the play my teammates kept saying, 'Effran, you're going to hit the next one,'" Bryant, a four-year letterman, said. "Corin hit me and (the defender) slipped and fell. I took the shot and it went in. It was one of the biggest shots of my career."
Bryant finished with 14 points. Even more impressive for the 5-5 guard was grabbing eight rebounds.
Nobody scored in the final 69 seconds and the game went to overtime tied at 64.
"I think we showed a lot of heart and a lot of fortitude tonight," Reisman said. "We've come from behind several times this year, and I think the ability to do that says a lot about the character of our team."
Tarleton dominated the extra five-minute period, building a 10-point lead before a pair of late 3-point field goals by the Lions.
Jeremiah Wilson, who recorded his eighth double-double with 12 points and 10 boards, scored in the paint with 4:12 remaining to give Tarleton its first lead since just before the four-minute mark of the first half.
After the Lions tied it up, Devon Hills hit a 3-ball for a 69-66 lead and the advantage only grew from there.
Hills netted 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Two free throws by Bryant stretched the lead to five before a slam by Smith made it 76-69 with 1:16 to play.
Tarleton, which was 31-50 at the free throw stripe including 8-13 in overtime, picked up four straight charity shots from Wale Ogunoye and Wilson to lead 80-70 with 40 seconds left.
TAMUC got as close as five thanks to two late 3-balls, but Henry's final points came on a layup with 13 seconds left to seal the win.
Tarleton hit only 34.8 percent from the floor, but knocked down 11 of their final 17 including 5-7 in overtime. The Texans hit only 26.1 percent in the first half.
The Lions hit 56 percent from the field after halftime, but late turnovers proved costly.
"We had some crucial turnovers against their press," TAMUC coach Sam Walker said.
Reisman believes the press, which he called for with about five minutes left in regulation, made the difference for his team.
"We went to the press and forced some turnovers and got some easy baskets," he said. "I think the press took them out of their comfort zone."
The free throw shooting disparity drew Walker's attention as his team attempted 27 shots from the line, 23 less than the Texans.
"I've never seen a team attempt 50 free throws in a game before," Walker said.
Tarleton shot 37 free throws in regulation.
The Texans needed the big comeback after a 12-0 run gave TAMUC a 40-28 lead early in the second half. The Lions were playing from ahead most of the way after an early run of nine straight points gave them an 11-7 advantage.
Tarleton came back to lead briefly at 21-20, but the Lions scored eight of the final 10 points in the first half to lead 28-23 at the break.
TAMUC had four players in double figures - Preston Whitley (16), Cardell Hunter (13), Tryis Dowell (11) and Brian Singleton (10).