STEPHENVILLE – In the end, the most impactful plays and defining moments of a Saturday night Western Athletic Conference showdown between Tarleton and Chicago State belonged to the team from the Lone Star State.
Tarleton netted six of the contest’s final eight points to turn back the Cougars 57-54 in front of an announced crowd of 2,223 spectators.
Brandon Betson scored four of his game-high 16 points in a 34-second span to give Chicago State its first lead of the second half at 53-51 with 1:16 to go.
“I knew how good those guys are,” head coach Billy Gillispie said. “We saw at the end of the game exactly what they can do, and that’s what they want to do. Great plan, play them close, play tough, and at the end, let one of their players make a great play.”
Tahj Small (14 points, 5 rebounds) canned one of two free throws with 47 seconds left to pull Tarleton back within one.
On a night where Tarleton held Chicago State to its worst shooting percentage (33 percent) in conference play, the Texans then dialed up perhaps their biggest defensive possession of the ballgame off Small’s miss.
Shamir Bogues pressured Betson up top and forced him toward the right key. Tre Gipson curled away from his man, cut off Betson’s lead leg and poked the ball free. He dished to Freddy Hicks in a two-on-one to set the sophomore up with a pair at the foul line.
Hicks calmly sunk both free throws to put Tarleton in from 54-53 with 16 seconds remaining.
Small then denied Betson’s go-ahead drive inside the paint, forced his floater short and secured the rebound to go to the line. This time, Small was perfect at the charity stripe, increasing the Texans edge to 56-53 with less than 10 seconds left to play.
Gillispie then used his final timeout and instructed Tarleton to foul before Chicago State could attempt a game-tying 3-pointer. The Texans hacked Betson with two seconds to go. He sunk his first free throw and attempted to miss his second. But the ball failed to graze the rim, resulting in a dead ball and sending Javontae Hopkins to the line off the inbounds play.
Hopkins made his first and missed his second. Chicago State’s half-court heave flew long and left to set off the celebration inside Wisdom Gym.
“I thought the crowd was awesome,” Gillispie said. “Maybe the best we’ve had all year. I love our crowds every single time. I think they made a real difference in the game. When things didn’t look great, they were at their best, and that’s what you hope for.”
Tarleton is now 11-13 overall and positioned itself back above .500 in conference play at 6-5 with seven games remaining in the 2021-22 season. Chicago State fell to 6-18 overall and 2-8 in WAC play.
The Texans have now won three straight games for the second time this season.
Bogues and Hopkins clamped down on the Cougars’ guards all evening. Hopkins recorded a season-high three steals – all of which came in the first half – to pair with eight points in 27 minutes off the bench. Bogues swiped the ball away twice to register the 21st multi-steal game of his collegiate career.
Small’s 14 points were a team-high for Tarleton. Noah McDavid joined him in double figures with 11 points.
Gipson snagged seven rebounds to lead Tarleton on the glass.
The Cougars knocked down 18-54 attempts from the field. Of the 54 shots, 27 came from long range and only six of which found the back of the net.
But the attempts from behind the arc Chicago State connected on stymied Tarleton’s bid for a comfortable home victory.
The Texans used a 22-9 scoring run that spanned 10 minutes to build a 27-16 lead with 3:32 left in the first half. The Cougars sandwiched consecutive triples in-between five free throws to fuel an 11-0 run and knot the score at 27-27 entering the intermission.
Tarleton went 1-12 from the field to close the frame.
The Texans scored 15 of the first 21 points in the second half to lead it 42-33 with under 12:00 to go and put themselves in position to break the game open. Chicago State again countered with a long ball on the following possession to keep the affair a two-possession game.
Betson’s fourth 3-pointer of the night got the Cougars within a point of Tarleton at 49-48 at the 4:28 mark of the half as a part of a 12-2 scoring run.
Tarleton shot 37 percent (19-52) from the field and went 6-12 from behind the arc.
The Cougars enjoyed a 40-35 edge on the glass, in large part due to 14 offensive rebounds.
The Texans and Cougars won’t have to wait long to run back Saturday’s contest. Tarleton heads to the Windy City on Feb. 19 to rematch Chicago State in what will be the second-and-final meeting between the two schools as WAC adversaries.
Two more home games await Tarleton before its trip north. The Texans will first reignite their rivalry with Abilene Christian on Feb. 12 and then host Utah Valley on Feb. 16.