Tarleton defeats South Alabama to earn signature nonconference win
STEPHENVILLE – Following a five-week stretch that sent Tarleton to seven road games spanning six states and opposite three top-25 foes, the Texans broke through in triumphant fashion on Friday.
Tarleton knocked off South Alabama 65-52 to inside Wisdom Gym to earn a historic victory in its penultimate nonconference affair of the 2021-22 season.
The win was Tarleton's first against a team featured in the top-100 of the NCAA NET Rankings — South Alabama entered ranked No. 79 — and first over a Division I foe this season and in nonconference play since making the D1 jump in 2020. The victory also snapped an eight-game winning streak for South Alabama (9-3).
Tarleton improved its overall record to 4-8 with the result. The Texans had an opportunity to enter Western Athletic Conference play as victors in four of their last five games when they took on Air Force (7-2) on Tuesday in Stephenville.
The eighth-and-final win of the Jaguars' early-season surge came at the expense of the Texans. South Alabama knocked off Tarleton 69-62 on Tuesday in Mobile.
But Friday's rematch billed itself as an opportunity for revenge. Tarleton led for more than 23 minutes in its defeat 72 hours prior, forced a season-high 22 turnovers and finished with 12 steals.
And on Friday, Tarleton made all the necessary course corrections.
With the score tied 45-45 at the 9:54 mark of the second half, the Texans ripped off a 14-2 run to assume a 59-47 lead with 2:15 to go and lock up the win.
The strong second half close was a welcome sign for Tarleton. The Texans led at halftime in three of their previous losses against D1 foes, including 32-28 in Mobile on Tuesday.
Tarleton is now 10-0 in games inside Wisdom Gym under second-year head coach Billy Gillispie.
A perhaps loose official's whistle undermined the Texans' upset prospects three days prior in Yellowhammer State. South Alabama connected on 23 attempts at the foul line on Tuesday – more than any other team against Tarleton.
Inside the Lone Star State, Tarleton forced the Jaguars to play outside-in throughout the evening. South Alabama knocked down just 5-11 attempts at the line and shot 20-48 (41 percent) from the field.
Despite playing undersized, Tarleton also out-rebounded the Jaguars' 36-30. South Alabama posted a 40-23 edge on the glass in the teams' first meeting.
Tarleton again won the turnover battle, forcing 15 Jaguar giveaways to its 10. The Texans have now posted a positive turnover differential in 11-of-12 games this season and forced opponents into 13-or-more turnovers each time out.
South Alabama has billed itself as a hub for high-major transfers under fourth-year head man Richie Riley. The Jaguars' roster features eight transfers, five of whom made previous stops at Power Five conference programs and four of which played in the SEC.
The biggest stars in Friday's game, though, donned Purple and White.
Montre Gipson racked up a game-high 27 points on an efficient 10-20 shooting clip. Gipson tallied 17 of his points in the second half. The 5-11 senior connected on all of his field goals inside the arc. Gipson also finished with seven boards and three assists.
He went one-on-one with Jaguars' star Jay Jay Chandler all game and won the individual head-to-head. Chandler, a graduate transfer from Texas A&M, entered the contest averaging 15 points and four rebounds per outing and fresh off a 13-point, four-rebound effort vs. Tarleton. The Katy, Texas native got his points, finishing with a team-high 23, but was ineffective down the stretch. Gipson and Tarleton induced Chandler into his fourth foul with 5:35 remaining and Tarleton leading 54-45 behind a 9-0 run.
Not to be outdone was Tahj Small, who posted his second double-double of the season with 16 points and a game-high 12 rebounds. Small's dozen boards were the second-most in a single game in his Texan career and most by a Texan in a game this season.
Freddy Hicks finished with seven boards and a team-high four assists. Hicks and fellow starter Shakur Daniel played the full 40 minutes while Gipson and Small saw 39 minutes of action.
South Alabama led 19-13 with 8:45 remaining in the first half with momentum seemingly in favor of the Jaguars. Chandler, though, then picked up his third foul on the ensuing possession. The graduate transfer had tallied a game-high 10 points on 4-5 shooting.
With Chandler sidelined, Tarleton made its decisive push up the scoreboard. Gipson and Small combined for six points to knot things at 22-22 with 3:14 left before halftime. Tarleton then took its second and third leads, respectively, of the game behind a layup from Gipson that made the score 24-22 and three straight points by freshman Noah McDavid that staked the Texans to a two-point halftime lead.
Tarleton closed hard in the second half.
Daniel scored the first four points out of the intermission to up the Texans edge to 31-25. The Texans then maintained a multi-possession lead to the tune of a 43-36 advantage following a 3-pointer from Bogues and drive inside by Gipson. Hicks drained a triple after the Jaguars tied the game at 45 to ignite Tarleton's conclusive run. Gipson followed with six straight points to effectively put the game out of reach.
Tarleton is now 10-4 in home games under Gillispie and 203-36 since 2007.
After Tuesday's game vs. Air Force, the Texans have a bit of a break before traveling to St. George, Utah to take on Dixie State at UT Burns Arena at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 30.