Smith leads Texans to erase 13-point halftime deficit over WAC-leader GCU in front of sellout crowd

Tarleton pulls within one game behind the Lopes for a chance at a share of the regular season WAC title


STEPHENVILLE — Jakorie Smith used a 17-point second half to propel Tarleton State Men’s Basketball to erase a 13-point deficit and overcome the WAC-leading GCU Lopes who entered the game as the NCAA’s most winningest team this season on Thursday night inside a sold-out Wisdom Gym.

The Texans (19-7 overall, 12-3 WAC) handed the Lopes (24-3, 14-2) their third loss of the season, dethroning them from holding the fewest losses in all of NCAA Men’s Division I. With the victory, the Texans all but secure their spot in the top two of the conference standings and pull within one loss of GCU for the chance to share the conference title. For the Texans to earn a share of the title, the Texans would just need to lose one fewer game than the Lopes in the final two weeks of the regular season.

“The atmosphere tonight was electric,” said acting head coach Joseph Jones with passion postgame. “The crowd was insane, and without everyone that came tonight, we don’t win this game. I would take this gym tonight over any big-time major gym, that is said to have the best fans. I would take this crowd tonight over all of them.”

“I have been here for 36 years,” said Senior Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics Lonn Reisman to the team after the game. “See that gym tonight, that’s the way it used to rock. You guys have brought it back, keep it going.”

Fans flocked to Wisdom Gym, forcing a sellout with standing room only and a lower bowl that never sat down. Students filled the lower bowl within the first 20 minutes of the doors opening forcing everyone to stand. Throughout the entire night there was no room to move in the lower bowl with fans and students hanging on the edge of their seat with every single play of the game. Following the final buzzer, the section stormed court and filled it with fans in nearly seconds, for the first time in recent memory.

“Wisdom Gym was jam-packed, and we thank the fans for coming out,” Smith said with a grin postgame. “I loved the crowd. It was the football team, the Purple Poo, the Plowboys, everybody was here. I loved playing in this environment.”

For the third time this season, a pair of Texans each notched 20 points, all from different pairs. This go-around, Smith teamed up with Devon Barnes for a combined 46 points. Smith accounted for 24 on three-of-eight from deep, while Barnes added 22 of his own while making 12 of his 13 free throws.

KiAndre Gaddy had himself a night earning his sixth double-double of the season and second in conference play. The senior scored 13 points and tied the Texan D1 era record for total rebounds for the second time this season with 14.

Tarleton set new single game records this season both in free throws attempted (40) and free throws made (29). The 40-mark was the most free throws attempted by the Texans in a WAC game since joining in 2020.

GCU’s Tyon Grant-Foster led all scorers with 25 points and added 13 boards for his third double-double of the season.

It seemed bleak for the Texans, trailing 35-22 at the break, but if you left at halftime, you missed a great basketball game.

“Coach told us that if we keep playing hard, keep playing our defense, things are going to fall our way,” said Smith about the locker room motivation at halftime.

Tarleton State came out of the break with a mission to give the crowd what they wanted. After a barrage of buckets going back-and-forth, Emmanuel Innocenti brought the crowd to their feet with a fast break slam dunk initiating it with a steal of his own, cutting the deficit to 11, with 15:36 remaining. A Barnes mid-range jumper and a pair of free throws by Smith cut the GCU lead to seven on a 6-0 TSU run. But, GCU wouldn’t let the lead last long and broke off on a 10-2 run of their own to extend the lead to their largest of the night at 15, 52-37.

The Texans used an 6-0 run to bring the crowd back with two points each coming from Gaddy, Barnes and Smith. After a GCU bucket, the Texans used a four-point swing in a 19-second span to flip the momentum in the gym giving everyone in attendance the inkling that the Texans weren’t done yet. Gaddy started the momentum booster with a layup in traffic and followed it up with a steal on the opposite end. He found Barnes in the open court who laid it in to trim the GCU lead to six, 56-50.

Grant-Foster responded for the Lopes with a bucket, but the Texans decided it was their turn. In a span of just 1:17, the Purple and White erased the eight-point deficit and tied the game at 58 on a fast break layup by Barnes.

With 5:33 remaining and a tie game, GCU head coach Bryce Drew, called his final time out of the game. TSU grabbed its first lead since the six-minute mark in the first half on a pair of made free throws by Barnes.

The final five minutes of game play felt as if they were the most important minutes played in the WAC this season. GCU tied the game at 60 and then took the lead, 61-60 when Ray Harrison converted his and-one lay-up. But, the Texans would answer right back when Smith sunk a deep triple to give the Texans a two point advantage. GCU added a free throw to cut their deficit to just one with 3:45 to play before the final media timeout of the game.

Barnes responded out of the break with a three-point play to give the Texans their largest lead of the second half, 66-62 with 3:39 to go. Grant-Foster knocked down a triple for the Lopes to cut it to one, followed by a Harrison made free throw a few possessions later to tie the game, once again. Barnes broke the tie with a mid-range jumper only to be countered on the other end by Grant-Foster who made the layup, drew the foul, and converted on his and-one free throw.

Gaddy tied the game at 72 with 51 seconds to play before Williams gave the Texans a two-point lead on a pair of freebies with 27 ticks to go. A clutch block by Gaddy of a GCU triple resulted in a TSU board and eventually two made free throws by Barnes, putting the Texans up 76-72 with 15 seconds left. Harrison headed to the line for the Lopes with 10 ticks left making both, resulting in a two-point GCU deficit. After the Texans needed a timeout due to being unable to inbound the ball, the Lopes fouled Innocenti before an inbound was made sending him to the charity stripe also with 10 ticks left where he made one of two.

With a three-point game and the ball coming up the court in the sure hands of GCU’s Harrison, tension in the gym was at an all-time high. However, this time the hands of Harrison weren’t so sure. The guard lost the ball out of bounds after being unable to control his dribble right in front of the GCU bench, giving TSU the ball with five seconds to play. The Purple and White fired an inbound pass to Smith who had distanced himself from any Lopes where he let the clock run out and the Lopes elected not to foul, giving the Texans the stunning, 77-74 victory.

After a rough first half shooting just 25.9 percent from the field, the Texans used a 51.9 percent shooting performance in the second 20 minutes to finish the game at 39.3 percent, 22-for-56. The Texans shot 4-for-19 from deep, with all four coming in the second half. The Texans won just their second game of six this season when shooting 40 percent or less from the field. The Lopes won the battle of the boards, 39-37.

For just the third time in WAC play, the Lopes forced less than 10 turnovers, with two of the three coming against the Texans. Tarleton forced 14 GCU turnovers, compared to committing just eight. The Texans scored 17 points off turnovers while only allowing the Lopes to score six.

For the first time in the Texans’ DI era, the starters accounted for each point scored, with the bench accounting for zero points. TSU did not sub in the second half and played a total of eight player, with the three  coming off the bench accounting for just under 19 combined minutes.

Tarleton State will round out the week on Saturday against California Baptist in another revenge match against the Lancers at 4 p.m in Wisdom Gym. Early-arriving fans will receive a free pack of Texan trading cards in honor of National Trading Card Day.

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