DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Freddy Hicks has played with virtually one hand for months, and he’s still been one of the best players on the court night in and night out. On Sunday in Tarleton’s game at the College Basketball Invitational, he couldn’t be stopped and nearly powered the Texans to victory before the purple and white fell in overtime to Radford 72-70.
The Texans (17-17, 9-9 WAC) wrap up their season at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida, playing in their first ever national NCAA Division I postseason tournament, the second across all of Tarleton Athletics. The Highlanders (20-14, 12-6 Big South) tied it with three seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime, then hit a go-ahead jumper with 36 seconds left in the extra period to advance to the CBI quarterfinals Monday.
“That was a tough loss,” head coach Billy Gillispie said. “We had several chances to win and advance but we didn’t get it done. It wasn’t for a lack of trying though. These guys always gave themselves a chance no matter who we played.”
Tarleton played like the better team for most of the game, holding the lead for 30:41 in regulation, leading by as many as 12 in the second half. But nothing is ever easy in the postseason, and both teams battled back-and-forth late, with neither team leading by more than a possession over the final 10:30 of the game.
Hicks powered the Texans with his first double-double of the season and second 30-point game, recording 30 points (2-2 3PT, 14-16 FT), 11 rebounds and four steals, playing all 45 minutes. His 30 points tied a career-high (against Drake in the Paradise Jam on Nov. 21 this season), his 11 rebounds were a season-high and his most since 11 at UTRGV on March 5, 2021, and his four steals tied a career-high (at Seattle U on Jan. 19 this season).
“Freddy was fantastic, as good as a player could be today,” Gillispie said. “What a season he has had. A broken foot to start the summer that cost him a few games at the start of the season and he didn’t quit. He broke his hand in the middle of the season and he never let his head get down. He came back extremely strong, culminated by a championship performance. I’ve never seen anyone like him in my life. I applaud his toughness, determination, disposition and competitive spirit amongst many other things. What a player and what a great young man.”
Hicks finishes the year leading the team in scoring (16.2 PPG) and rebounding (6.0 RPG), the first Texan to average 15+ points and 5+ rebounds since Josh Hawley in 2018-19. Hicks now owns Tarleton’s single-season scoring record at the D1 level, and he finishes with the tied-ninth most free throw attempts in a single-season in program history with 194, matching Michael Hardge (2014-15) and Brandon Burney (1999-2000).
Of course, Hicks wasn’t alone on Sunday, as he was joined by solid outings from Jakorie Smith and Lue Williams. Smith led the bench with 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, six rebounds, four assists and a steal. Across all three of Tarleton’s postseason games, Smith averaged 17.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Williams notched 12 points (5-7 FG, 2-3 3PT), seven rebounds and two steals.
Overall team-wise, the Highlanders had the shooting advantage in this one, making 29-of-54 (.537) from the field to Tarleton’s 24-of-54 (.444) clip. The Texans were more efficient from deep (5-10, .500) and the FT line (17-20, .850), plus had the advantages in rebounds (29-26) and turnovers (19-15). Radford outscored Tarleton in the paint 36-24.
Radford got out to the hot start, going up 6-2 just over three minutes in. Tarleton quickly answered with a 9-0 run to lead 11-6 just two minutes later. The difference remained about the same until there were eight minutes left, where Tarleton took their first double-digit lead on Hicks’ back-to-back treys. The Highlanders chipped away a bit toward the end of the half, sending both teams to the locker room with the Texans ahead 37-33.
The Texans opened the second half with the first eight points to take their largest lead of the game at 12 at the 17:25 mark, 45-33. Radford answered with a 9-2 spurt to get back within five. With six minutes to play, Tarleton led by four, and after Radford soon made a three to get within one, neither team led by more than a possession the remainder of the game.
With the Highlanders up three and 2:19 to play, Smith drew a charge and followed on the other end with a short jumper to cut the deficit to one. Tarleton forced a miss on the next possession and Hicks was fouled after corralling the rebound, and he knocked down both free throws to put Tarleton up 61-60 with 1:09 to play. Radford answered with 52 seconds left on a dunk to take back the lead 62-61. Back on the Texans’ side, Hicks got an offensive rebound and was fouled again, and once again, he made both free throws to give Tarleton the lead 63-62 with 28 seconds left. Hicks added a free throw with 12 ticks left to put Tarleton up 64-62, and Radford sent the game to OT with a dunk with three seconds left.
In overtime, Radford scored on the first possession, but more Hicks free throws quickly tied it back up. After an and-one by the Highlanders, Shakur Daniel calmly sank a mid-range jumper to keep Tarleton on the brink. Smith then gave the Texans the lead at 70-69 with 2:10 left, but it would be Tarleton’s final points of the game. Radford split free throws at the 1:33 mark to tie the game, then made a jumper with 36 seconds to play to go up two. With four seconds left, Radford missed the front end of a one-and-one. Hicks got the rebound and raced down the floor to throw up a decent running three-point attempt, but it was not to be.
Tarleton’s 2022-23 season comes to a close, a campaign that saw them set a new single-season D1 record with 17 wins, capped off by an opening win in their first ever WAC Tournament and a CBI invitation for their first national D1 postseason tournament.
“I am so proud of this team,” Gillispie said. “I haven’t been around too many who did the things they did. It was not the result we wanted today but I wouldn’t trade this group for anyone. They have accomplished so much in a short time no matter what obstacles we faced. They play for each other and play for Tarleton and not every team can say that. It’s a unique group of young men in the best of ways.
“The things we have done at the NCAA Division I level is quite amazing,” Gillispie added. “The exposure they’ve brought to the school is astounding. Everyone in the basketball world knows this is a giant in the making. We will build off the successes and the mistakes we’ve made and we will cut down the nets in no time. Thank you to everyone who has helped us and supported us this year. We appreciate each and every single person.”