Tarleton battles No. 20 Michigan wire-to-wire in near-upset of the Wolverines
ANN ARBOR – For about 20 minutes on Thanksgiving Eve in eastern Michigan, Tarleton was at the epicenter of NCAA Division I basketball.
Trailing 47-34 against the nation's 20th-ranked team – the Michigan Wolverines – with 13:18 to go inside the Crisler Center, the Texans mounted a comeback bid that had the college basketball world talking.
Behind a series of timely defensive stops and a trio of 3-point field goals by guards Tahj Small, Montre Gipson and Shakur Daniel, Tarleton cut the Wolverines' advantage to one possession with less than six minutes remaining.
Gipson, who finished with a game-high 17 points, first drained a face-up triple from the top of the key that made the score 52-49 as the clock trickled under six minutes. Daniel then answered a pair of free throws by Michigan star Hunter Dickinson on Tarleton's ensuing offensive possession with a bomb behind the arc from the right key with a hand in his face. The answer from Daniel (7 points, 3 steals, 2 rebounds) prompted Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard to burn a timeout with 4:20 to go and Michigan clinging to a 55-52 lead in front of a hushed crowd of 12,336 spectators.
Fox College Hoops and other Big 10 Conference media members sounded the alarms on the Twitterverse and elsewhere as the Wolverines were firmly on upset alert.
Ultimately, Michigan countered with three straight slam dunks – two of which came off turnovers — as a part of an 8-2 run that upped the Wolverines' edge to 63-54 with 1:28 to go and put the game out of reach.
The Texans moved to 1-5 with the loss, but each defeat has come away from home against a team ranked inside the top-150 of the Ken Pomeroy Basketball Ratings and been competitive.
"This the toughest, hardest-nosed team in college basketball," head coach Billy Gillispie said.
Howard, in his third year as the head man at his alma matter, was equally complimentary postgame.
"Tarleton is a very good at getting into passing lanes, being active with their hands, feet, and their energy," Howard said.
Howard's sentiment was in reference to Tarleton's pressure man-to-man defense, which sped Michigan up in the half court with success all evening. The Texans forced 21 Wolverine turnovers – a season-worst for Michigan and season-best for the team in Purple and White. Tarleton also finished with a season-high 11 steals and committed just nine giveaways of its own. The Wolverines' 65 points scored were their fewest in a home game since Nov. 10, 2018.
Two straight turnovers to open the contest led to a pair of easy buckets for Shamir Bogues, as Tarleton jumped out to a 4-0 lead 53 seconds into the game. Michigan's turnover figure reached five before the clock reached the 13-minute mark in the half. Daniel and Small bookended 3-pointers around a long jump shot from Bogues to keep Tarleton ahead at 12-9.
Tarleton enjoyed a 22-10 edge in points off turnovers. Four players recorded at least two steals. Daniel led all players with his trio of swipes while Gipson, Hicks and Small each had two.
Michigan finished 12-16 from the field in the first half and shot 55 percent for the game but had just 38 attempts from the field.
Michigan responded with a 7-0 run. Gipson, though, counterpunched to commence his stellar showing in primetime. The senior scored eight straight points to get Tarleton within a point of the Wolverines at 21-20 with 5:17 left before halftime.
Gipson's 17-point effort marked his 10th consecutive double-digit scoring game and 19th of his 25-game career in Stephenville. The 5-11 guard also led Tarleton on the boards with seven rebounds.
An 11-2 Michigan run put the Wolverines ahead 31-22 at halftime. The deficit reached 15 points at 40-25 four minutes into the second half. Tarleton scored seven of the next nine points to begin its comeback bid, with the score standing at 41-32 with 14:30 to go.
Five of the Texans' points in the surge came from Freddy Hicks (7 points, 2 rebounds) while Small added a bucket of his own. Small was Tarleton's other double-digit scorer at 12 points.
The Texans got back within single digits two separate times five minutes later, first off a no-look pass from Gipson to freshman Noah McDavid in the paint and later via a turnaround jumper by Gipson. Michigan's lead did not eclipse 10 points until there was just 1:08 left to play.
Tarleton shot 34 percent (19-56) from the field. It marked the third time in four games the Texans connected below a 40% clip.
The Texans now conclude their November nonconference slate with the toughest test any team in college basketball will face, a trip to The Kennel to face No. 1 Gonzaga on Monday in Spokane, Washington. The game will be Tarleton's second straight against a team that earned a No. 1 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament and third opposite a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.