Tarleton responds to big Abilene Christian run with smothering 2nd half defense to win WAC Tournament opener


LAS VEGAS — There were a lot of extremes to Tarleton State’s WAC Tournament opener against Abilene Christian. Above all else, only one thing matters – the Texans won.

The 7-seed Texans (11-19, 7-13 WAC) took down the 6-seed Wildcats (14-16, 10-10 WAC) 54-41 at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon to advance to the WAC Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday.

After a hot 16-6 start for Tarleton State, the Wildcats responded with a 21-0 run to lead 27-16 midway through the second quarter. The Texans didn’t panic, and smothered ACU in the second half, allowing just 12 points in the final 20 minutes to win by 13.

“I’m really proud of our composure and defensive toughness in our win this afternoon,” head coach Bill Brock said. “Our team rebounding, shot selection and free throw shooting were outstanding in the second half. I’m so happy our players are getting to experience this conference tournament atmosphere.

This marked Tarleton’s first conference tournament win in their NCAA Division I era, and their conference tournament win in five years, last winning their Lone Star Conference Tournament opener 62-61 against Midwestern State on March 8, 2019. This was just the second time that Tarleton State and Abilene Christian had met in the postseason, and the Texans have now evened the all-time postseason series, as the Wildcats won in their LSC Tournament game in 2005.

The Texans allowed just 41 points, their third fewest allowed on the season, and it was the fewest scored by ACU by far on the year. ACU made just 4-of-28 (.143) from the field in the second half and were outshot overall 20-of-51 (.392) to 14-of-55 (.256). The Texans also outrebounded the Wildcats 42-30. ACU had entered the game No. 12 in the nation in average rebounding difference at plus-15.0 per.

Tarleton won the season series 2-1 against ACU. After losing 73-51 in Abilene and being outrebounded 49-29, the Texans followed by outrebounding the Wildcats in each of the next two games by a combined 75-54 margin.

Long led the show for Tarleton State on Wednesday as she played all 40 minutes. She totaled 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting, four rebounds and two assists. This was her second 20-point game of the season and her first since dropping 34 at McNeese on Dec. 16.

Miannah Little also played all 40 minutes, finishing with 13 points, six assists and five rebounds. Faith Acker secured 12 rebounds, adding eight points and four blocks.

The Texans had zero bench points on the day, only using a seven-woman rotation.

The two leading scorers for ACU were both at 10 points, scored by Bella Earle and Addison Martin. The Texans forced All-WAC Second Team guard Payton Hull to a three-point day on 1-of-11 shooting, with four turnovers.

Tarleton State arrived to Orleans Arena with a special crowd out front as supporters, Texan Cheer and Foul Play, the Tarleton State band for basketball games, greeted the Texans to the game.

The Texans turned that energy into a hot start, going up 16-6 in the first quarter, capping it off on a 9-0 run. The Wildcats responded from there, scoring the quarter’s final 10 points to enter the second tied 16-16, then scoring the next frame’s first 11 points for a 21-0 overall run to lead 27-16 with just over six minutes remaining. The Texans kept their composure and chipped away at the deficit the remainder of the half to find themselves down by just six at the break, 29-23. Tarleton only had one field goal make in the second quarter, a three-pointer, and added four free throws.

In the third quarter, Tarleton didn’t allow a field goal make over the first 3:34, and they broke through to take back the lead 35-34 with 2:38 left. The Texans ended the third quarter on a 7-0 run to lead 42-36 entering the fourth, then scored the fourth quarter’s first 12 points to lead 54-36 with 4:07 remaining in the game. So as ACU used a 21-0 run to end the first and start the second, the Texans nearly matched it with a 19-0 run to end the third and start the fourth. The Wildcats scored their first points of the final frame with 3:51 to play, and the Texans rolled out their own victory formation, back-to-back intentional shot clock violations to end it.

Now the Texans turn their attention to the 3-seed Stephen F. Austin Ladyjacks. The WAC Tournament quarterfinals game will be played on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. CT, 2:30 p.m. PT, at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. SFA won the season series 2-0, but they were both competitive contests, with the first tied up after three quarters, and the second a two-point game early in the fourth.

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