EDINBURG – Suffice it to say, the regional Western Athletic Conference rivalry between Tarleton and UTRGV belongs to the team from the Cowboy Capital.
The Texans steamrolled the Vaqueros 79-64 on Saturday inside the UTRGV Fieldhouse behind a career-high 29 points from Freddy Hicks and 50 percent shooting clip from the field.
Tarleton has now won three straight ballgames over UTRGV – all of which have taken place in Hidalgo County. The Texans’ average margin of victory in the contests is 14 points.
Saturday’s win also gave Tarleton its third-ever WAC weekend sweep and boosted its conference record back to .500 at 5-5.
The Texans now sit at 10-13 overall while UTRGV dipped to 6-15 and 1-8 in conference play.
Three days had passed since Tarleton’s 62-57 win at Lamar on Wednesday. The Texans braked from basketball for a bit on Thursday and engaged in friendly competition at the bowling alley and inside the arcade. The team also watched two movies during its off days.
Players appeared loose during warmups on Saturday evening, throwing down a series of spinning dunks and reverse layups.
The time off, team camaraderie and positive vibes in turn translated to the hardwood.
Tarleton led for all-but-44 seconds in the contest – a 4-3 UTRGV edge it erased less than three-and-a-half minutes into the game. The Texans led by as many as 20 points in the second half at 55-35 and took a 42-26 lead into the intermission.
It was one of the most efficient offensive outings of the season for Tarleton. The Texans shot a sizzling 60 percent (17-28) from the field in the first half – their best shooting percentage in a half this season. Tarleton dished out 19 assists, its second-most in a game this season and most versus Division I opponents.
Tarleton quickly put a shorthanded Vaqueros squad – UTRGV dressed just nine players – behind the eight ball. Five points from Shamir Bogues, followed by a 3-pointer by Noah McDavid, in a two-minute spurt gave Tarleton a 17-7 advantage with 13:30 to go in the first half.
The Texans then vanquished the energy from the Vaqueros and home crowd with a lethal close to the frame.
Leading 21-10, Tarleton connected on eight of its last nine attempts from the field to assume a 16-point halftime lead.
Hicks was responsible for 11 of Tarleton’s 21 points in that stretch. He also punctuated a five-point sequence to close the half that effectively gave the Vaqueros a standing eight count.
With Tarleton ahead 37-26 and retaining possession with 15 seconds left on the game clock, head coach Billy Gillispie called a timeout. He put the ball in the hands of Montre Gipson at the top of the key. Gipson crossed over his defender and tickled the twine on a long jumper from the right key with five seconds remaining. Hicks then came charging up half court to intercept the inbounds pass from UTRGV and drilled an off-balance attempt from behind the arc as time expired.
The knockout blow arrived with 3:29 left to play after McDavid and Hicks drained back-to-back 3-pointers to increase Tarleton’s lead to 75-56.
Hicks’ 29 points tied Gipson for the most in a single game by a player this season. He went 10-15 from the field and was 3-3 behind the arc.
The performance was Hicks’ second masterpiece in Edinburg. The 6-6 forward delivered a 21-point, 11-rebound effort in Tarleton’s 65-47 win over UTRGV on March 5, 2021 to notch his third career double-double and sew up WAC Freshman of the Year accolades.
Hicks averaged 22 points per game in Tarleton’s road sweep of Lamar and UTRGV.
Gipson and Bogues each finished with 13 points and five assists. Gipson led all players with seven assists while Bogues dished out six dimes of his own.
Tahj Small joined his position-mates in double figures with 10 points while McDavid added eight of his own.
Tarleton outrebounded the Vaqueros 33-27 and transformed 16 UTRGV turnovers into 23 points.
The Texans knocked down 17-24 (71 percent) free throws while the Vaqueros went 12-20 at the line.
Tarleton is now 6-0 in conference games opposite teams from the state of Texas since joining the WAC in 2020. The program is 14-2 versus teams with Lone Star State roots in its Division I era.
With the victory, the Texans now occupies sole possession of sixth place in the conference standings.
They’ll have a chance to rise higher, move over .500 in conference play and notch their second-ever three-game WAC winning streak on Feb. 5 when the program welcomes Chicago State (6-15, 2-6 WAC) to Stephenville.
The contest versus the Cougars is Tarleton’s lone game next week and marks the first-ever meeting between the schools.
Tarleton is now scheduled to play five of its next six games at home.