For the first time this season, No. 11 Tarleton State (8-0) was challenged from wire-to-wire Tuesday night.
Big-man Tashawn Mabry stepped outside and hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Texans a 79-76 edge with 3:13 remaining, and they were ahead the rest of the way in an 89-83 victory over McMurry (4-4) at Wisdom Gym.
"I just stepped into my shot with confidence and it went in," said Mabry, who missed Tarleton's last game due to illness and hadn't played since Nov. 30. "It felt real good to hit that because I've been in a little slump shooting lately."
It was one of two second-half triples by Mabry, whose career-high 20 points off the bench included knocking down 10 of 13 free throw attempts. He hit a pair of charity shots with 3.66 seconds left to provide the final tally.
Tarleton won its 15th straight at home in a rough, back-and-forth battle that featured 22 ties and 18 lead changes. The six-point final margin was the largest lead for either club.
"It was a tough one, and it's a real big win" said Mabry, who transferred to Tarleton this season from Modesto Junior College (Calif.) after originally signing with Rhode Island. "Coach told us this would be a challenge so we came out and played our hardest, and that's what it took to win."
There were a combined 59 fouls and 80 free throws. Tarleton was 41-54 from the stripe while McMurry was 17-26.
McMurry, which already owned a road win over Conference USA member Texas-San Antonio, hit 55.8 percent from the field, a blistering mark almost unheard of from Tarleton foes in Wisdom Gym and the highest percentage of any Texan opponent this season. The War Hawks hit seven more field goals - including four more 3-pointers - than the Texans, but couldn't make up for the free throw differential.
Each team had four double-digit scorers. Tarleton, which posted season lows of 37.3 percent shooting from the field and 19 percent from the arc, was led by Mabry while Damion Clemons and Mohammed Lee netted 13 each and Chuck Guy scored 11 despite a cold night from the floor.
Guy was just 2-12, but hit 7-8 from the line. He also dealt five assists and had a career-best six steals. Michael Hardge scored all of his points by going 8-10 from the free throw stripe. De'Andre Upchurch scored nine despite going just 1-8 from the arc.
McMurry was led by Brandon Golden with 23 points, while center Alfred Perez scored 17 and led everyone with six rebounds. Alex Lewis netted 16 and Kourtney Goff 10.
Depth was a big factor with Mabry, Clemons and Lee powering Tarleton to a 56-14 advantage off the bench. It's the second straight game the Texan reserves have amassed 56 points, outscoring their starters each time.
Tarleton gained a five-point advantage on a pair of Hardge free throws with exactly a minute remaining, but Golden answered with two at the other end. Guy then earned his own turn at the line and made it pay by hitting both for a 85-80 Texan lead with 45 ticks left on the clock.
Golden was awarded two points on a goaltending violation while being fouled with 32 seconds to go, and the ensuing free throw made it a two-point game. But Lee knocked down a pair for Tarleton, Golden missed a 3-pointer at the other end and the rebound went out of bounds to the Texans with eight seconds left.
Mabry was fouled in the front court moments later and finished the scoring from the stripe.
Tarleton did not hit a field goal after a Guy layup made it 81-76 with 2:36 remaining, but the Texans held on by going 8-8 from the stripe in the final 60 seconds. They actually hit their final 12 attempts from the line over the last seven minutes.
"We work on pressure situations and on free throws every day," said Mabry. "It paid off in the end."
McMurry's final lead of 72-71 came from, where else, the free throw line with 4:35 remaining. Tarleton outscored the War Hawks 18-9 the rest of the way.
When McMurry grabbed a 22-19 edge on a Thaigo Randazzo 3-pointer with 10:58 left in the first half, it marked the first time the Texans trailed all season. Tarleton had been tied or ahead of opponents for the first 289 minutes of the year. The Texans' average margin of victory entering the game was a NCAA Division II leading 43.3 points.
"We just need to play a little more together," Mabry said. "We're doing good now, but I think if we keep coming together and play more together, we can keep getting better as the season goes on."
It goes on this weekend when the Texans travel to Las Vegas for the South Point Holiday Hoops Classic. They take on Central Washington at 1 p.m. (CST) Saturday and No. 5 Western Washington at 5 p.m. (CST) Sunday. Those will be their first games away from Wisdom Gym, where they don't play again until hosting South Dakota Mines on Jan. 4.