Morton's career day vs. UNT Dallas helps Tarleton notch third straight win
STEPHENVILLE – When Jayci Morton has it rolling, it tends to yield a positive correlation in the win column for Tarleton women's basketball.
The trend was as evident as ever on Sunday inside Wisdom Gym in the Texans' 71-46 victory over UNT Dallas. Morton, a Stephenville native, racked up career-highs in points (16) rebounds (7) and steals (4) in a team-high 28 minutes off the bench to stake Tarleton to its third straight win behind a second half surge.
Tarleton moved to 7-12 on the season and 4-2 in home games but needed every bit of Morton's career effort against a pesky Trailblazers squad. UNT Dallas, which transitioned to the NAIA level in 2020, trailed the Texans by just eight points at the intermission and led for more than three minutes of the first quarter.
Morton's hot hand, though, helped keep the Texans in front.
She scored 10 of her points – seven of which came in the second quarter – in the game's first 20 minutes. Her second 3-pointer with 4:11 remaining in the half stalled a 12-2 UNT Dallas scoring run that saw the visitors pull within a point of Tarleton at 26-25. Five straight points from Morton midway through the third quarter then capped a 17-8 extended scoring spurt that increased the Texans' lead to 52-32 and essentially thwarted any thoughts of a Trailblazers upset.
Tarleton has now won four of its last six ballgames dating back to its 79-63 win at UTRGV on Jan. 27. Strong play from Morton is a reason the Texans are playing their best basketball of the season with six games remaining. The sophomore chipped in eight points and six rebounds in the triumph over the Vaqueros and matched her previous career high in scoring (11 points) in the team's first-ever Western Athletic Conference victory. Morton is averaging 7.7 points in games Tarleton won and has snagged four-or-more rebounds in four of the Texans' seven victories.
The Texans received a boost from their frontcourt in the 25-point win over UNT Dallas as well.
Marissa Escamilla again paced Tarleton offensively, finishing with a game-high 18 points along with seven boards. The Burnet, Texas native has now scored in double figures in seven consecutive games and leads Tarleton in scoring (14 ppg) following Sunday's result. Fellow forward Lucy Benson matched her career-high in rebounds (11) while Emily Cunningham was the third Texan to score in double figures with 11 points.
UNT Dallas employed a heady game plan to stay within striking distance of the Texans early on. The Trailblazers, who dressed just six players, milked the shot clock and played almost exclusively within the half court to limit Tarleton's offensive possessions and fast break opportunities. UNT Dallas connected five times from long range in the first half and was nearly even on the glass with Tarleton at the break, as the taller Texans had a 22-21 edge in the rebounding department.
Tarleton, though, ratcheted up its effort level defensively in the second half, holding the Trailblazers to 19 points and no made triples. The Texans also snagged 29 boards to finish with a season-high 51 rebounds. Tarleton's 16 assists against six turnovers was its best assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7) of the season as well.
With Tarleton in front 57-39 entering the final frame, the fourth quarter became an opportunity for younger players to get extended run on the hardwood. Head coach Misty Wilson closed the game with a lineup featuring four newcomers – three of whom are freshmen.
Emily Cavey netted four points in five minutes with a spin move and finish with her right hand on the low block and pair of free throws to match her career high in scoring. Cavey, 6-0, can both play out on the perimeter and slide inside with her back to the basket.
Also joining the action was freshman guard Blythe Williams, who scored her first points in Purple and White with a midrange jumper from the top of the key. Fellow newcomer Nya Moody then scored the game's final bucket and her second basket as a Texan with a layup underneath the basket.
Sunday's win kicked off a busy stretch of basketball for the Texans, as Tarleton will conclude its season with seven games in a 13-day span. Four of the Texans final five games will take place in Stephenville. Tarleton's next home series is against Utah Valley on March 2-3 and the team caps its debut Division I season with back-to-back home games vs. UTRGV on March 5-6.
Up next for Tarleton is a return to WAC play and trip across the state to face New Mexico State on Friday and Saturday in El Paso. The series bills itself as a battle for fifth place, as the Aggies (5-10, 3-5 WAC) and Texans currently are tied in the conference standings. Both games will tip off at 2 p.m. CT.