COLLEGE STATION – Tarleton’s storybook ending came up short in an upset bid over Texas A&M.
The Texans, led by former Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillispie in his return to Reed Arena, nearly pulled off an upset for the ages against his former assistant and Aggie head coach Buzz Williams, but the Aggies erased a 10-point second-half deficit to sneak by the Texans, 73-66.
Gillispie coached at Texas A&M from 2004-07 and made only his second return to College Station since his last season. Gillispie led the Aggies to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances, including the Sweet Sixteen in 2007. The first-year Texan head coach received a well-deserved standing ovation during lineup introductions from the Aggie faithful.
“I thought our guys played their tails off tonight,” said Gillispie. “I’m very proud of every single person on our team and the effort they gave. We know what we are up against as a transitional team, but that’s not an excuse for us. We played a good team that made the right adjustments and did exactly what they’re supposed to do to win. We’re happy to be here, but we didn’t come here to lose. We’ll take a lot from tonight and try to get better as we go.”
Once the ball was tipped, Tarleton (1-1) went punch-for-punch with Texas A&M, jumping out to a 13-8 lead to open the game behind the hot shooting stroke of Konstantin Dotsenko from three. The Aggies had one lead in the first half, and it was short lived at 18-17 when Dotsenko countered with his second straight long ball to regain the advantage. The sophomore from Russia gave the Texans its largest lead at 25-19 on his third three in the closing seconds of the first half. Dotsenko scored 10 of his 15 points in the opening frame.
Turnovers were a factor in the first half for both teams, as Tarleton had 14 turnovers and Texas A&M had 16. The defensive effort led to the Texans holding a 26-24 lead at the break and proved the Texans, a team only two games into its Division I transition, could compete with the Aggies.
In the second half, it was Montre’ Gipson’s turn from outside that help swing the momentum towards the Texans and quiet the limited home crowd attendance of 1,316 fans. Tarleton opened the second half on an 8-2 run behind back-to-back 3’s from Gipson for a 34-26 lead. It was the start of a 20-point second-half scoring effort for Gipson, as the junior guard connected on another three for the first double-digit lead of the game at 42-32 that forced an Aggie timeout with 13:20 left. Gipson finished with a career-high 23 points on 4-5 from 3-point range and added a game-high three steals.
Tarleton led for 28 of the 40 minutes, but it was the final 10 minutes of the game that cost the Texans. Trailing by nine, the Aggies got a dunk from Savion Flaggs that sparked the maroon and white offense. It was the start of a 10-0 Aggie run to take the first lead of the second half at 47-46 with 8:15 on the clock. The Aggies scored 15 straight points at the free throw line, a place where they went 31-40 for the game compared to Tarleton’s 16-26. With free throws comes fouls and Tarleton had four players foul out – including three starters – in the final minutes of a five-point lead that allowed the Aggies to pull away late to secure the home victory.
Defensively, Tarleton outplayed Texas A&M for the majority of the contest by holding the Aggies to just 18 field goals for the game and forced 20 turnovers.
On the scoring end, the Texans got 11 points from freshman Shamir Bogues, who had his first start of the season tonight. Bogues was one of three Texans in double figures. Tahj Small posted seven points, all coming in the first half. Freddy Hicks added five points, while Jonathan Jackson Jr and Joey Madimba each had two. Jackson added a pair of steals and blocks on the defensive end.
Tarleton will continue its four-game road trip as the Texans travel to former Lone Star Conference rival Abilene Christian on Saturday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.