STEPHENVILE – A midweek matchup with Utah Valley promised a chance for Tarleton to play the proverbial role of ‘spoiler’ to begin the final week of Western Athletic Conference play and the program’s inaugural Division I season. And late in Tuesday’s contest inside Wisdom Gym, the Texans delivered a Hollywood performance.
Tarleton fell 60-58 to the Wolverines, who locked up the No. 2 seed in next week’s WAC Tournament with the win. But the Texans nearly erased a 15-point fourth quarter deficit in a thrilling finish.
A 17-5 scoring run drew Tarleton (8-14, 3-8 WAC) within two points of the Wolverines at 58-56 with 1:08 remaining. Sophomore Jayci Morton then hit a put-back layup following a pair of UVU free throws to keep the contest a one-possession game with three seconds left. But a timeout allowed the Wolverines to advance the ball to midcourt, and with Tarleton needing to foul twice to send UVU to the line, the visitors were able to trickle out the remaining clock.
UVU (10-5, 9-4) appeared in position to cruise to its fourth straight win, leading 53-41 with 5:26 remaining. Tarleton, though, had other ideas.
Iyana Dorsey’s third 3-point shot of the night trimmed the deficit to nine. Marissa Escamilla completed a three-point play with a layup and foul shot to on the ensuing possession make the score 53-47 around the 3:30 mark.
Dorsey and Escamilla each finished with a team-high 15 points. Dorsey, who continues to lead the WAC in 3-point field goals made (47), notched her 19th double-digit scoring game of the season. Escamilla tied the Wolverines’ Shay Fano for the game-high in rebounds with 10 to record her third double-double of the season and sixth of her career.
A midrange jumper by UVU point guard Maria Carvalho (16 points, 5 rebounds) pushed the Wolverines lead to eight before Kaitlyn Guillory converted another and-one finish at the rack to cut UVU’s advantage to 55-50. Emily Cunningham then drained a triple to bring Tarleton within two points. Carvalho followed up with a 3-pointer of her own, but Cunningham again connected from long range, this time from the top of the key to make the score 58-56.
Cunningham scored 10 of her 12 points in the fourth quarter. Tarleton set the 6-0 junior up with two looks from long range trailing 60-56 with under 30 seconds remaining but both shots rimmed in and out.
The middle portions of the game ultimately proved costly for Tarleton. The Texans led for more than 14 minutes of the first half and assumed a 14-11 edge after the first quarter but went on an offensive dry spell in periods two and three. Tarleton went a combined 6-32 from the field while UVU simultaneously found its shooting touch.
After trailing 20-13 midway through the second quarter, the Wolverines went on a 25-6 extended scoring run to lead 28-26 at halftime and 46-33 after 30 minutes of action. UVU shot 50 percent (13-26) from the field between the first and third quarters and outscored Tarleton 18-7 out of the intermission.
UVU shot 46.8 percent from the field for the game compared to a 33.3 percent clip (21-63) by Tarleton. The Wolverines, who started three players 6-0-or-taller, had a 40-31 rebounding edge.
Tarleton successfully navigated a pressing man-to-man defense employed by the visitors throughout the evening. The Texans finished with a season-low six turnovers while forcing 15 UVU giveaways.
Conversely, head coach Misty Wilson’s zone defense paid dividends late in the game.
Escamilla, Cunningham and fellow forward Lucy Benson took turns defending UVU’s Josie Williams throughout the evening. Packing the paint and the occasional double team limited touches inside for Williams, who entered the contest averaging 14.7 points 8.1 rebounds per game. The 6-5 forward tallied 13 points and eight rebounds but scored just three points in the second half.
The improved ball control was a welcome sign for head coach Misty Wilson. The Texans committed a season-high 30 turnovers in Friday’s road victory over New Mexico State and had 21 in a 67-44 loss to the Aggies one day later.
Kandyn Faurie led all players with five assists while chipping in five rebounds. Dorsey and Cunningham had three steals apiece.
Tarleton and Utah Valley square off again at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in Wisdom Gym. Tuesday’s game commenced a stretch of four games in five days for the Texans, who cap their season vs. UTRGV on March 5-6.