PALO ALTO – Tarleton served notice on college basketball’s biggest stage as to the upward trajectory its program is headed in 2021-22 and beyond on Tuesday in the Silicon Valley.
The Texans threw a major upset scare into Pac-12 power Stanford in their season-opener inside Maples Pavilion. Tarleton led for nearly 14 minutes of the ballgame, took a 26-24 edge to the intermission and assumed its largest lead of the night at 35-28 with less than 15 minutes to go.
In the end, the Cardinal prevailed 62-50. But in defeat, and with games against three teams ranked inside the Associated Press top-10 looming in November, the Texans delivered a veritable message.
No matter the matchup, no opposing victory will come easy or without a fight.
Tarleton threw its first shockwave into an announced crowd of 3,080 midway through the first half. Stanford jumped out to an 11-4 advantage at the 12:20 mark of the period but the Texans then ripped off a 12-0 run – the largest unanswered run of the game for either squad – over the ensuing 3:30 to take a five-point lead.
A midrange jumper from Shakur Daniel kickstarted the spurt. Back-to-back bombs from long range by Freddy Hicks and Tahj Small then gave Tarleton its first lead of the evening. Small then converted consecutive looks off turnovers to cap the offensive surge.
Small – Tarleton’s leading rebounder last season – delivered another all-around performance on the perimeter and on the glass. The 6-5 guard finished with 11 points and a team-leading eight rebounds. Six of his rebounds came in the opening 20 minutes.
Tarleton stayed even on the defensive boards with Stanford in the first half at 10 rebounds apiece. The figure spoke to the energy Tarleton played with all evening. The tallest player the Texans inserted into the game is 6-6. Conversely, nine players on the Cardinal roster stand 6-8-or-taller.
Stanford rattled off seven straight points to regain the lead but Tarleton again counterpunched. Daniel canned a triple from the right side of the arc before Jonathan Jackson Jr. nailed a jumper outside the key to put the Texans in front for good in the half at 21-20. Tarleton upped its lead to 23-20 and 26-22 behind five straight points from Montre Gipson.
Gipson was Tarleton’s top offensive player with 15 points on 6-12 shooting to go along with four assists. The performance marked the 14th double-digit scoring effort of his career in Purple and White and seventh game as Tarleton’s leading scorer.
The DeSoto, Texas native ignited a five-point sequence that caused the Cardinal faithful legitimate unease. With the score even at 28-all, Gipson, 5-11, twice rose above a set of Stanford forwards to convert a pair of twisting putback second-chance layups to stake Tarleton to a 33-28 lead with 14:29 to go. Jackson Jr. (8 points, 2 rebounds) then flushed a two-handed fastbreak slam off a steal by Hicks to prompt the Cardinal to burn a timeout.
Ultimately, the seven-point edge proved to be Tarleton’s largest and final of the game. Stanford used a 26-4 extended scoring run over the ensuing 10 minutes to stymie the Texans’ upset bid.
Even with the outcome decided, Tarleton’s hustle was on full display until the end. The Texans crept within single digits at 59-50 with 40 seconds remaining on the strength of an 11-4 run.
Tarleton’s pressure defense again proved disruptive. Stanford’s 62 points scored was its fourth-lowest figure in the last two seasons. The Texans turned the Cardinal over 14 times and limited Stanford to 42.6 percent shooting from the field and just six makes from beyond the arc. Tarleton also doubled up Stanford in steals (6-3).
Daniel joined Gipson and Small in double-digit scoring with 10 points while Hicks added five rebounds to round out Tarleton’s list of individual performers. Four of the eight players who entered the game for Tarleton – Daniel, Gipson, Jackson Jr. and Small – eclipsed 30 minutes of action.
Stanford was just the first of several litmus tests the Texans’ will face in the coming days. Tarleton now heads to the Sunflower State on Friday to face one of the most storied programs in all of basketball in a historic venue, the Kansas Jayhawks inside Allen Fieldhouse.
The Jayhawks, ranked No. 3 in the AP top-25, upended Michigan State on Tuesday inside Madison Square Garden.
Tipoff for Friday’s tilt is set for 7 p.m.