PHOENIX – Lucy Benson looked the part of a locker room leader and enforcer down low on an otherwise trying evening for Tarleton in a 71-54 defeat at the hands of Grand Canyon on Tuesday inside GCU Arena.
In game in which the officials blew the whistle a combined 38 times between the two teams, the senior snagged a career and game-high 11 rebounds to keep the Texans within striking distance of the Lopes for much of the contest. Benson, 5-11, did so despite drawing the assignment of 6-5 forward and GCU’s leading scorer in Katie Scott.
The Kennedale, Texas native ultimately fueled a 39-31 edge for Tarleton on the glass against a taller Lopes team. Tarleton also enjoyed a 14-6 advantage in offensive rebounds.
On a frustrating evening – Tarleton was issued technical fouls twice in the third quarter – the rebounding progression constituted as headway as Tarleton continues its first of four transition years to Division I basketball.
GCU moved to 11-3 on the season with the win and currently sits in second place in the Western Athletic Conference standings. Tarleton (4-12, 0-6 WAC) is still in search of its first conference victory, having also fell to the Lopes 64-55 in the Valley of the Sun on Monday
But Tarleton fell behind the Lopes early as the turnover bug was a plague for the second consecutive game. After the Texans assumed a 4-0 lead to begin the game off a dump-of from Benson to Emily Cunningham and Iyana Dorsey crossover dribble but GCU quickly counterpunched.
The Lopes rattled off a 14-0 scoring run over a span of 6:45 and closed the frame on a 23-6 scoring spurt as Tarleton turned the ball over eight times in the first quarter. The Texans had 22 giveaways – their second-highest figure of the season – one night removed turning the ball over 26 times. All eight players who entered the game for Tarleton turned the ball over and all but two did so on multiple occasions.
Getting the ball out of Scott’s hands early and often again proved to be a sound second-quarter defensive adjustment. Escamilla and Benson took turns defending the 6-5 post player and GCU’s leading scorer in the game’s first 20 minutes and held her scoreless in the second quarter. The Texans in turn limited GCU to 11 points in the frame to stay within as many points of the Lopes at 32-21 entering the intermission.
Scott finished with a game high 20 points, though 16 came in the second half.
Benson’s 10th rebound at the 2:58 mark of the third quarter set up a three from Dorsey to pull Tarleton within 10 points of the Lopes at 43-33. The Texans then got to the line twice and closed the frame on a 9-2 run to make the score 45-37 entering the game’s final period.
Foul shooting kept the Texans competitive. Tarleton hit 17-24 attempts from the charity stripe. It marked the eighth game in which the Texans made at least 15 free throws.
Four straight points from Scott and an easy bucket inside off a Texan turnover form the 9:15-8:47 mark of the fourth quarter gave GCU an 11-point advantage. The Lopes led by double digits the rest of the way and by as many as 18 points in the game’s final period.
Dorsey led Tarleton in scoring for the sixth time this season with 15 points. The 5-6 guard has now scored in double digits in 14 of Tarleton’s 16 games. Escamilla was perhaps Tarleton’s most consistent performer at both ends of the floor, as the junior finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Tarleton is now scheduled to have an 11-day layoff, as the Texans’ next scheduled conference series is at Chicago State on Feb. 13-14.