OREM – Cold shooting, a hot Utah Valley start and the COVID-19 bug proved to be too much for Tarleton to overcome inside the UCCU Center on Saturday.
The Texans fell to the Wolverines 77-55 in the first of two Western Athletic Conference matchups between the two schools this season.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for Tarleton and was its first conference defeat in five tries dating back to the 2020-21 campaign.
Tarleton (6-9, 1-1 WAC) was without six players and two coaches for the second straight game due to COVID-19 protocols and injury. The absences included Tahj Small, who ranks second on the team and 11th in the WAC in scoring at 14.4 points per game, and point guard Shakur Daniel, Tarleton’s active leader in games started (32).
The Texans connected at a season-low 29 percent (17-58) from the field while the Wolverines shot 50 percent combined and from behind the arc (8-16).
Utah Valley opened the game on an 11-0 run. Tarleton began the contest 0-9 from the field and was 4-23 through the game’s first 14 minutes.
The Texans trimmed the deficit down to seven points at 17-10 at the 9:16 mark of the first half but the Wolverines (10-4, 1-1 WAC) used a 9-2 run to extend their advantage to 26-12 with 5:30 remaining. Utah Valley took its largest lead of the half two minutes later at 32-16. Tarleton tallied seven straight points to get within single digits and trailed 34-23 entering the intermission.
The Wolverines scored 16 of the first 22 points in the second half to assume a 52-28 advantage – the largest of the game – and maintained a 20-point lead at 59-37 with 11:47 to go. Tarleton, and Freddy Hicks in particular, refused to bow out quietly. The Searcy, Arkansas native rattled off six straight points to cap a 10-1 run that got Tarleton within 13 points of the Wolverines at 60-47 with 7:52 left to play.
Shamir Bogues delivered one of his best all-around performances of the season, finishing with 17 points – three off his season high – six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Hicks (14 points) and Montre Gipson (11 points) joined Bogues in double figures.
Hicks is averaging 17.5 points per game over Tarleton’s last three outings. The sophomore netted a game and career-high 27 points to stake Tarleton to its 14-point triumph in St. George.
Gipson became the first player in Tarleton’s Division I to eclipse 500 points in the defeat. The 5-11 guard nearly recorded his first double-double of the year, as he finished with a team-high nine rebounds along with a game-best five steals.
Utah Valley out-rebounded Tarleton 48-29 and finished with a 38-18 edge in points in the paint.
Fardaws Aimaq was responsible for one-third of the Wolverines’ boards, as the 6-11 center recorded his nation-leading 12th double-double with 21 points and 16 rebounds along with five blocks. Connor Harding and Tim Fuller added 17 points and 13 points, respectively.
The Wolverines are one of the most formidable foes Tarleton will battle on the glass this season. Utah Valley entered the ballgame ranked 22nd in the nation in defensive rebounds per game (29.2) and 26th in rebounds per game (41.2).
The Texans won the turnover battle for the 13th time in 15 games this season. Tarleton forced 17 Utah Valley giveaways and had 12 turnovers of their own.
Tarleton went 17-22 at the foul line. The team’s 17 made free throws were its most in a true D1 game this season. The Texans continue to lead the WAC in free throw percentage at 74.7 percent.
A return home and to better health is now on the horizon for Tarleton. The Texans host Sam Houston (6-8, 1-0 WAC) at 7 p.m. on Thursday inside Wisdom Gym in their WAC home-opener. Tarleton then caps its traditional two-game weekend homestand on Saturday against Stephen F. Austin.