OREM, Utah – It wasn’t a matter of if, but when Tarleton men’s basketball would pick up the much-anticipated first Western Athletic Conference victory.
That when came tonight, on January 30 in Orem, Utah, with the Texans leading from start to finish to take down previously unbeaten Utah Valley 70-62 to record the first Division I conference win in university history.
“It feels great, it’s a really happy locker room in there,” said first-year Texan head coach Billy Gillispie. “I’m really happy to see those guys as happy as they were after the game. There’s nothing better in college basketball than winning a game on your opponent’s home court. Everyone says how hard we play and all that, but you have to turn them into wins. I’m so proud of these guys for putting it all together tonight to get that win.”
The win snaps a five-game losing streak in WAC play for the Texans, but they were within striking distance in all five league games so far and Gillispie knew his team was close to getting over the hump.
“I feel like we are getting better every game. I’m always proud of this team, but I’m extremely proud of them tonight because they deserve this win.”
After being held scoreless for the first time all season, Tarleton’s leading scorer Montre Gipson bounced back in a huge way with a game-high 24 points, his fifth 20-point scoring outburst this season while playing all 40 minutes. Gipson’s timely shooting by going 4-5 on 3-pointers and clutch buckets down the stretch paced the Texan offense throughout the game. As a team, the Texans went 9-16 on 3-pointers.
As Gipson was connecting from deep, Jonathan Jackson Jr. was filling the stat sheet down low. Jackson had nine of the team’s first 12 points to build a 12-5 advantage early. After scoring a career-high 18 points in Friday’s loss, Jackson carried his play over with 16 points, three rebounds and two blocks.
“It feels great to get this victory,” said Jackson, the lone senior on the roster, after the game. “There’s a lot of freshmen on this team that are new to the Division I level. I played Division I last season [at Prairie View A&M] so I have a lot of experience at this level, so it really feels good to do it for those guys so they can have that same feeling that I had when I got my first D1 win.”
The Texans (4-8, 1-5 WAC) led by as much as 12 in the first half and held off many Utah Valley (6-7, 4-1 WAC) scoring runs to maintain a 31-24 halftime lead.
In the second half, the Texans went to its veteran upperclassmen on the court with Gipson, Jackson, Shakur Daniel and Tahj Small scoring 33 of the 39 points in the final 20 minutes. Gipson and Daniel each had 10 points in the second half, as Daniel hit a pair of 3-pointers that extended the game to a two-possession game when the Wolverines were gaining ground. Daniel finished the game with 10 points and a team-high four assists.
The Wolverines cut the deficit to two points at 40-38 with 14:18 left in the game, but the Texans responded with a 23-15 run over the next 10 minutes to push the advantage back to double digits in the final minutes. The Texans closed on a 7-0 run at the free-throw line to ice the game.
Tarleton’s defense limited Utah Valley to a conference-low 62 points and forced the Wolverines into 12 turnovers, while holding them to just 31 percent on 3-pointers after connecting on 59 percent (10-17) of their 3’s in Friday night’s game. The Texans only had seven turnovers of their own, the eighth straight game of single-digit turnovers.
The Texans got major contributions off the bench from Caleb Golden, who in just his third game back from injury, totaled seven points, four rebounds and two steals in a career-high 28 minutes. Tahj Small was the fourth Texan in double figures, as the junior posted 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Tarleton will have two weeks off before its next game as they are schedule to return to Utah to play fellow WAC transition member Dixie State on February 19-20 in St. George, Utah.