DENVER - No. 3 Tarleton State didn't just tip off South Central Region Championship play Saturday afternoon, the Texans kicked down the door and took over Auraria Event Center as if they were home at Wisdom Gym.
Tarleton (28-2) began the game with two alley-oop slam downs by Davene Carter and 3-pointers from Chuck Guy and De'Andre Upchurch for a quick 10-0 lead and never looked back in a 92-56 blowout of Heartland Conference Tournament champion Texas A&M-International (22-9).
A much tougher test awaits in Sunday's regional semifinals. The Texans face arch-rival Midwestern State for the fourth time this season at 6 p.m. Central time.
To say Tarleton dominated the first half is a little like saying the Rocky Mountains are tall. The Texans had a 21-0 run to lead 34-4 by the seven-minute mark, and finished the half shooting 63 percent from the floor and 69.2 percent from outside the arc for a 47-16 halftime lead.
"I thought our kids really came out focused and executed our game plan very well," said 26th year Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman. "We've been an explosive team all year, and I thought we came out and shot the ball with confidence. What's special is it doesn't matter to anyone on our team who scores, what matters is that we advance. We had 22 assists, and that means we're moving the ball and playing great team basketball. I thought offensively it was one of the best games we've played."
Seventh-seeded A&M-International couldn't get anything to go down against second-seeded Tarleton's tight man-to-man defense, going just 6-30 in the first half with many shots altered inside by Carter and Cathey-Macklin. Even senior guard guard Coleman Furst blocked a shot in the paint against the Dustdevils, who missed 22 of their first 23 attempts. They entered the game averaging 81 points.
"We were getting in their face defensively, making them catch the ball away from their spots. That and we cut down on penetration," Reisman explained. "We executed our game plan defensively, too."
Tarleton won by its largest margin ever in an NCAA Championship game, with their previous biggest win coming by 17 against Missouri Southern State in the opening round of the 2012 regional in Wichita Falls. The Texans also scored their most points ever in a national playoff game. The previous high was 81 against Southwest Baptist in a 2008 regional semifinal in Stephenville.
De'Andre Upchurch poured in 21 points to lead five Texans in double figures. He has scored 20 or more 13 times this year, with Tarleton going 12-1 in those games. Upchurch has topped 20 points in four straight games and averages 22.2 over the last 12.
"I always come into the game with confidence that any shot I take will be good," said Upchurch. "I know if I get to my spots the guys on this team will find me. All I have to do is put it in."
Emmanuel Andrews scored 13, Tashawn Mabry 12 and Mohammad Lee 11 off Tarleton's bench that amassed 45 points. It's the first double-digit scoring performance since Jan. 25 for Lee and since Feb. 19 for Andrews.
"We were in a groove. We were more focused in our shoot-arounds this week, and we stayed focus and played like a family," said Andrews.
The Texans hit a season-best 14 3-pointers including three each by Upchurch, Andrews and Mabry. They topped 90 points for the ninth time, and did it all with just five turnovers.
"Lately in practice we've been working on getting to our spots so we know where to put the ball, and we did that," said point guard Chuck Guy, who had eight points, eight assists and five rebounds. "We talk about not forcing shots and keeping turnovers to 12 or less, and we did that."
Midwestern reached the semifinal round by holding off a late charge by Arkansas-Fort Smith, 72-66. Xavier Blackburn had 25 points and 14 rebounds to lead MSU.
Tarleton is 2-1 against the Mustangs this season, winning 83-81 at MSU and falling 77-75 in overtime at Wisdom Gym before knocking them off 71-65 in the final of the LSC Championship. The rivals have split their last 26 games with each team winning 13.
"I'm excited to play Midwestern. We have a great team, they have a great team and we know each other inside and out," said Reisman. "It should be another great ballgame."