ABILENE – The resiliency and fighting spirit that has embodied the 2021-22 season was on display one final time for Tarleton men’s basketball on Saturday in west Texas.
Facing off with Abilene Christian for the 83rd time overall and second on the Western Athletic Conference stage, Tarleton nearly erased a 12-point deficit with under five minutes to go before ultimately falling 61-56 inside the Teague Center.
The Texans ripped off a 13-4 run with 4:46 to go after trailing 55-43 to put themselves in position to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer and send the regional rivalry into overtime.
Javontae Hopkins and Freddy Hicks drained back-to-back 3-pointers to draw Tarleton within six points at 55-49 with 3:11 to go.
ACU extended its lead back out to 59-51 with less than 90 seconds to play. Montre Gipson in turn responded with five straight points on consecutive possessions to make the affair a three-point game.
Gipson first converted an and-one drive to the rack through two defenders as the shot clock expired to make the score 59-54 at the 1:00 mark of the half.
In a game that featured 39 turnovers, Shakur Daniel followed by delivering arguably the most impactful of them all. With Tarleton applying full court pressure, the senior forced ACU guard Reggie Miller out of bounds adjacent to the scorer’s table as the Wildcats attempted to advance the ball past half court.
Gipson drew a foul again at the rim and knocked down a pair at the foul line to trim ACU’s lead down to 59-56 with 49 seconds remaining.
Tarleton then forced a shot clock violation to set up one final look at the basket.
Gipson penetrated after working the shot clock down, allowing fellow senior Tahj Small to slip through traffic behind the right baseline uncontested. But Small’s 3-pointer rimmed in and out. ACU secured the defensive rebound with three seconds left and iced the game with two free throws with Tarleton forced to foul.
Tarleton concludes its second season in the WAC and as a D1 program 14-17 overall and 9-9 in conference play. ACU (20-9, 10-8 WAC) secured the No. 6 seed and a first round bye in next week’s WAC Basketball Tournament, which runs from March 9-13 in Las Vegas.
Small and Gipson led Tarleton with 17 points apiece. Small tallied 12 of his points in the first half behind a 6-6 clip from the foul line.
Gipson, 5-11, nearly recorded the second double-double of his two-year Texan career, as he led all players with nine rebounds.
Freddy Hicks joined both players in double figures with 13 points.
Turnovers loomed large for Tarleton. ACU, which leads the nation in turnovers forced per game (21.8) and turnover margin (+9.0), pestered Tarleton into a season-high 23 giveaways. The Texans limited their turnover tally to 15 in the teams’ first meeting this season – a 77-63 ACU win on Feb. 12.
The Texans, though, took advantage of a liberal official’s whistle – a combined 49 fouls were called – and poor shooting performance from the Wildcats to stay in the ballgame.
Tarleton went 24-26 at the foul line. The Texans’ 24 made free throws were a season high.
ACU shot a season worst 15 percent (3-20) from behind the arc and connected at a 37 percent clip (19-51) for the game.
The teams were even on the glass at 28 rebounds apiece.