Tarleton displays heart, acquits itself well in defeat at Florida

TSU Sports Information
Cunningham
Marisa Escamill

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Tarleton displayed a valorous effort in its first taste of the SEC and national spotlight against Florida on Monday, ultimately falling 84-52 to the Gators at the ExacTech Arena. 

The game was the Texans' first against a Power Five Conference opponent as a member Division I school and was scheduled on Dec. 10. Tarleton is now 3-4 on the season ahead of a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada, on Dec. 20-21 for the South Point Classic. 

The Gators opened the contest with a 15-0 scoring run in the game's first 3:13 but the Texans played even basketball with UF for extended chunks of time. Tarleton led for more than eight minutes in the second quarter and were outscored by just one point in the final frame. 

The Texans regrouped midway through the first quarter and tested Florida at times. A 3-point shot from the top of the key by Emily Cunningham at the 4:35 mark of the first quarter snapped Tarleton's scoring drought. Tarleton shot 2-14 (14%) from the field in the first quarter and trailed 21-6 at the end of the frame but found its energy and offensive groove in the second period. 

Alexa Hoy opened the second quarter with back-to-back buckets and a face-up finish by Marissa Escamilla fueled a 6-2 scoring spurt to start the quarter. The Texans trimmed Florida's early advantage to as low as 10 points early in the frame. 

A pair of 3-point shots by Cunningham, who played 13 minutes off the bench in her return to action, saw the Texans outscoring the Gators 15-14 with less than 2:00 in the quarter. 

Florida took a 39-21 lead into halftime and found its outside shot in the third quarter after hitting just one 3-point shot in the first half. The Gators knocked down 4-6 shots from long range in the quarter and outscored the Texans 29-16 to erase any threat of an upset. 

Tarleton found good looks offensively in the second half despite falling further behind on the scoreboard. The Texans shot 53% (7-13) in the third quarter and received 30 points from their bench compared to Florida's 26. 

Escamilla led the Texans at both ends, finishing with a team-high 13 points and 5 rebounds. The 5-9 junior battled the taller Gator forwards all afternoon in her third game back from injury, finishing at the rim and converting off-balanced shots. 11 of Escamilla's points came in the second half Escamilla has scored in double figures in all four games she has played in and 18 times now in her career. 

Cunningham's return also proved to be an offensive boost. The junior college transfer had 11 points and was 3-5 from downtown. Cunningham ranks second in the Western Athletic Conference in 3-point field goal percentage (57.9) and fourth in field goal percentage (60.9). 

Hoy and Dorsey chipped in six points apiece while Dorsey and fellow guard Kandyn Faurie each had four rebounds. 

The Texans were out-rebounded 53-28 by the taller Gators' squad and shot 34 percent from the field. 

Tarleton continued to display an improved feel for the game at the offensive end. The team finished below its season average in turnovers (15.2) for the third consecutive game. 

All 13 players who dressed for Tarleton appeared in the game. The expanded bench is a promising development for the Texans, as the team has been without three-or-more players in four of its games this season. 

Tarleton opens the South Point Classic with a noon tipoff against Atlantic Sun foe North Alabama on Sunday. The Texans face Eastern Michigan at the same scheduled start time the following day.