Texans clinch berth to 2024 WAC Tournament with nail-biting victory at UT Arlington

Williams scores 20-plus for the fourth time in his last five games


ARLINGTON — Tarleton State Men’s Basketball clinched a berth to the 2024 WAC Tournament presented by Hercules Tire on Thursday night holding onto a 80-78 victory over UT Arlington at the College Park Center to tie its longest win streak of the season at six games.

With the victory, the Texans (18-7 overall, 11-3 WAC) join Grand Canyon as the first two squads to secure a spot in the WAC Tournament next month. The Mavericks (12-13, 7-7) remain jumbled in the next six spots that contain teams with six, seven and eight wins. Tarleton played its final Texan-based program finishing the slate a perfect 10-0.

When asked what it meant to acting head coach Joseph Jones said, “It’s a great honor. We have fought hard thus far this season, and it’s great to be in with six games still to play. But, our conference slate is not over yet and we have a lot of work to do before we head out for Las Vegas.”

Lue Williams led the team in scoring with 22. The senior scored 20-plus for the fourth time in his last five games, leading the team on all four occasions. The Atmore, Alabama, native, added three assists while shooting eight-for-11 from the floor and two-for-five from deep. Williams shot four-for-five from the charity stripe as well.

Jakorie Smith was electric as well notching 18 points, five boards, two assists and a steal. Emmanuel Innocenti led the squad with seven boards and three steals, while also adding ten points. The freshman has scored in double figures in each of the last two games and has totaled eight this season. Adam Moussa contributed nine points off the bench, setting a new game high as a Texan.

The Texans scored the first bucket of the game when Gaddy drove to the hoop for the layup, the two teams swapped buckets early on. The first four minutes featured five lead changes and a tie, ultimately resulting with the Texans holding a 8-7 lead after a Williams’ triple, sparking a mini 5-0 run for the Texans.

Tarleton held the lead until the 2:59 mark, leading by seven on three separate occasions. UT Arlington used a 9-0 run spanning 2:21 of game play to retake the lead, 28-26. In the final three minutes of the first half, the Mavericks held a 5-2 advantage eclipsed by a Phillip Russell three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to end the first half with UTA leading, 33-28. The Texans were led in scoring in the first 20 by Williams with 11.

The second half provided much more drama, featuring eight lead chances and five ties. The Texans charged out with a four straight points in the first 32 seconds of the second half, later tying the game at 35, just 2:13 into the second 20 minutes.

Trailing 50-47, the Texans burst on an 8-0 run, their longest of the night to regain the lead 55-50. Moussa got the run going, sinking a pair of free throws followed by a Williams layup. Williams would then snag a steal on the next UTA possession and take off for a fast break dunk. Smith scored the final pair of points in the run to give the Texans the 55-50 lead with 10:17 remaining.

Over the next several minutes, both teams would string together a few points, but just when it looked like the team was destined to break off with the lead, the other team responded and regained the lead.

After gaining a three-point lead with 5:20 remaining on an Innocenti triple, the Texans lead never dropped below three, then the final minute took place. The final sixty seconds of game action took nearly 20 minutes of real time to complete. Moussa sunk a pair of free throws to excite the Texan bench putting the squad up six with 1:05 to go.

The game was far from over. Moussa committed a foul sending the Mavericks to line with 41 ticks to go. Phillip Russell missed the first and made the second, cutting their deficit to just five. The very next play, the Texan inbound was intercepted and Makiah Williams took it to the hoop cutting the Texan lead to just three with 19 seconds left.

Devon Barnes was fouled before time could tick off the clock and he drained his pair of freebies, enlarging the lead to five. Barnes then committed his fifth foul of the night joining Traivar Jackson and KiAndre Gaddy as the third Texan to foul out. Russell made both free throws, cutting the UTA deficit to three with 10 to go. UTA sent Smith to the line with a foul with nine seconds remaining where he missed the first but made the second, giving Tarleton an 80-76 lead. Russell drove to the basket and connected on a layup with 4.7 seconds to go, narrowing their deficit to just two points. The Texans were unable to corral the inbound pass giving the Mavericks the ball under their hoop with 4.2 seconds to go.

After a lengthy delay questioning the validity of a substitution by UTA, the Mavericks in-bounded the ball right in front of the hoop to their big man, where he was unable to convert on a layup and a desperation tip. The Texans squeaked out the 80-78 victory for their 11th WAC win of the year. In the final minute the Texans shot five-of-six from the line to attempt to ice the game.

The Texans shot 63.6 percent from the floor (14-for-22) in the second half to shoot an even 50 percent, 26-of-52 in the whole game. With the win, TSU is now 31-0 in the D1 era and 8-0 this season when the team shoots 50 percent or better from the floor. After setting a D1 program record for three-point shooting percentage last game against Seattle U, the squad shot seven-for-21 from deep against the Mavericks. UTA won the battle of the boards, 34-26 and the Texans forced 14 turnovers while committing, 13.

Tarleton has the weekend off and will play a pair of monster home games next week in Wisdom Gym. First, in a battle of the best, the Texans will take on first-place Grand Canyon on Thursday at 7 p.m., in a night Tarleton fans will not want to miss, more details to come. TSU will round out the week on Saturday against California Baptist in a revenge match against the Lancers at 4 p.m.

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