CHICAGO – If this was indeed it between Tarleton and Chicago State on the Western Athletic Conference and D1 stage, the Texans ended the series on their terms.
Tarleton routed the Cougars 79-60 on Saturday inside the Jones Convocation Center.
The Texans led wire-to-wire and by as many as 25 points late in the second half. Tarleton shot 55 percent combined (29-53) – its second-highest shooting percentage in WAC play this season – while limiting Chicago State to just 17 total field goals and 10 buckets inside the arc.
Tahj Small poured in 23 points on 10-13 shooting to lead all scorers. Freddy Hicks kept pace, tallying 22 points to pair with eight rebounds. Doing it all for the second straight game was Tre Gipson, who nearly recorded the first double-double of his two-year Texan career with a 13-point, nine-rebound and six-assist effort. Gipson, 5-11, led all players on the boards and in assists. Small became the second player in Tarleton’s D1 era to reach 500 career points, joining Gipson.
“I thought they played real well,” head coach Billy Gillispie said. “We had a plan, and we were able to execute it. I thought our guys were a lot sharper than they had been offensively in a while. Their defense was hard to score against, and at times, it was like pulling teeth early. But at the same time, we were really good defensively, didn’t give them much. We needed a win, our guys came out and got it on the road, and we’re really happy to have it.”
The win was significant for several reasons.
It even the Texans’ conference record at 7-7 with four games to go in the 2021-22 campaign. Their seventh win is now a school record for most WAC victories in a single season.
The team now sits in prime position to finish at-or-above .500 in conference play. Tarleton hosts UTRGV (7-19, 2-11 WAC) and Lamar (2-22, 0-12 WAC), both of whom it defeated in January, on Feb. 24-26 inside Wisdom Gym. Should the Texans earn their ninth conference victory, they will become just the third program in school history to finish with a WAC record of .500-or-better.
Tarleton (12-15) extended its road winning streak to three games – its longest streak of such under Gillispie.
The Texans also earned a season sweep of the Cougars, having defeated Chicago State 57-54 on Feb. 5 in Stephenville.
Chicago State will voluntarily leave the WAC in July, meaning Saturday’s ballgame was the last time Tarleton will square off with the Cougars on an annual basis. And the Texans took care to quickly say their goodbyes.
Tarleton scored the game’s first seven points. The Texans then worked the ball inside to maintain a multi-possession lead at 17-9 with 9:58 to go in the first half.
Consecutive 3-pointers by Small and Noah McDavid (9 points) two minutes later then gave Tarleton its first double-digit advantage at 23-13. Bogues sucked in two defenders off a drive from the left key to set Small up with a wide-open look on the right baseline. Small then assisted on McDavid’s long ball.
Tarleton finished with 17 assists as a team, tied for their second-most in a conference game this season. Bogues and Small’s dimes proved to be a microcosm of what was to come.
The Texans widened their edge to 29-16 behind consecutive takes inside by McDavid and Hicks and a pair of free throws from Gipson.
Tarleton then closed the half on a decisive 10-0 run to assume a commanding a 42-23 lead entering halftime. Hicks accounted for five of the Texans points in the spurt. Gipson drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with six seconds left after Gillispie utilized Tarleton’s ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ 30-second timeout to set up the final possession.
The Texans hammered the Cougars inside all half long en route to the 19-point lead. Tarleton out-rebounded Chicago State 21-11 through the first 20 minutes. Eight of their boards came on the offensive glass. Tarleton finished with a 33-25 advantage on the glass for the game.
“That was a much-needed deal,” Gillispie said. “I’m a big rebounding guy. That’s the most important part of a defense, is getting the rebound. You can play them all you want to, but if they get the offensive rebound, number one, they usually score or get fouled. And then number two, you really can’t defend an offensive rebound. It’s like a foul or a turnover. We’ve got to continue to get better at it.”
The Texans knocked down 12 of their 16 field goals inside the arc.
Tarleton opened the second half with three straight field goals to increase its lead to 22 points at 48-26. Gipson’s second-and-final long ball of the afternoon from the top of the key off a Cougars’ turnover widened the margin to 54-30 with 15:38 remaining. Hicks later flushed home a dunk off another Chicago State giveaway at the 6:20 mark of the half to give Tarleton its largest lead of the contest at 69-44.
Chicago State suffered its eighth consecutive loss with the result and is now 6-21 overall and 2-12 against its conference peers. The 19-point margin of defeat was the Cougars’ second-largest in WAC home games thus far.
Both of Tarleton’s home games vs. UTRGV and Lamar will tip off at 7 p.m
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