Both the Tarleton State Texans and Lamar Cardinals came into Wednesday night’s WAC basketball clash looking for a spark. Tarleton had lost four consecutive games after starting out 3-1 in the Western Athletic Conference. Meanwhile, it has been a season of misery for Lamar and their fanbase thus far. Thanks to a combination of injuries and “health and safety” protocols, the Cardinals have been shorthanded on a nightly basis and have yet to win a league game. Lamar even had to forfeit two conference games earlier this season.
Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the scenario they faced on Wednesday was more of the same. Alvin Brooks’ team had only eight players available for the contest. While giving multiple freshmen and sophomores plentiful minutes figures to help Lamar in years to come, it continues to be a struggle in the present. The Cardinals played a spirited first half and change but ultimately could not keep pace for a full 40 minutes. Tarleton State built its lead to double-digits around the midway point of the second half and held off a late Lamar comeback attempt to earn a 62-57 road victory.
Tarleton State Texans Struggle to Pull Away in Win
The two teams wasted little time in getting the party started. Lincoln Smith knocked down a jumper on the first possession of the game for Lamar. He was answered by a three-pointer from Montre Gipson on the ensuing possession for Tarleton State and things were off and running. After a brief offensive lull, both sides contributed to an offensive flurry starting with a Noah McDavid jumper at the 13:02 mark. Over the next two minutes, he and Shamir Bogues would combine to score seven points for Tarleton. At the same time, each of Ellis Jefferson, Avontez Ledet and Kasen Harrison knocked down three-pointers for Lamar and the game was ultimately deadlocked again at 17 all.
A layup by Tahj Small at the 10:08 mark put the Texans back up by two. Freddy Hicks would extend the margin to five shortly after with a triple. One of the big advantages Tarleton had early on in the game was on the boards. The Cardinals’ depleted depth made it difficult to match up on the interior. However, every time it looked like the Texans might pull away, Lamar would respond. With around 3:30 to play in the half, C.J. Roberts snatched a defensive rebound and went coast to coast for a layup while getting fouled. He converted the three-point play to tie the game at 28. Tarleton State went on a 6-0 run to end the first half and led 34-28 at the break.
After Stretching Lead to Double Figures, Tarleton Fends Off Late Lamar Rally
Lamar freshman Brock McClure had the hot hand early in the second half. His triple at the 15:42 mark gave him seven points in the first four minutes and change coming out of the locker room. It also tied the game again at 38 all. The Cardinals actually took a brief lead on a layup by Jefferson with just under 14 to play. This proved to be the last lead or tie that Lamar would have as McDavid buried another three on the following possession to regain the advantage for Tarleton. A dunk by Hicks with just over 10 minutes to play pushed the Texans’ lead up to double figures. Gipson knocked down his fourth triple at the 9:25 mark. This made it a 53-42 game with the 11-point lead being the largest Tarleton would have all night.
Rather than mail it in having fallen behind by double-digits, Lamar just kept on chipping away. The Cardinals would hold TSU scoreless over the next three and a half minutes to pull within seven. After Small traded four points with a three by Roberts, a Smith jumper made it a six-point game at the final media timeout. After the two teams traded points, Harrison converted a traditional three-point play to bring Lamar within one possession at 59-56. Unfortunately for the home crowd, coming up with a stop is easier said than done when a scorer like Gipson is on the other side. Tarleton’s best offensive player beat the Cardinals’ defense for a layup to put the game away.
Montre Gipson Finishes with 18 to Lead Tarleton State in Win
Despite their losing record in WAC basketball play coming into the night, Tarleton was one of only two teams with two of the top-10 scorers in the conference. Montre Gipson continued to be the Texans’ top scoring threat on Wednesday night as he finished with a game-high 18 points. 12 of those came via the long ball as he connected on 4-5 shot attempts from beyond the arc. Conversely, Tahj Small, Gipson’s usual running mate finished 0-7 from three-point range.
In many ways, Small’s poor shooting night reflected an overall concern of watching Tarleton in this game. The Texans were extremely quick to settle for three-pointers instead of attacking the rim. TSU appeared to have the athletic advantage inside but passed up on exploiting it throughout the contest. Luckily, Freddy Hicks (15 points) and Noah McDavid (11) were there to pick up the slack. Hicks also provided six rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in a sound all-around performance.
Lincoln Smith Posts Double-Double for Lamar
This was easily the closest Lamar has come all season to scoring their first WAC basketball win. While the victory will have to come another day, there were certainly a lot of positives for the shorthanded Cardinals to take from Wednesday’s game. Senior forward Lincoln Smith stands out in the final stats with an 11-point, 12-rebound double-double. Meanwhile, it was freshman Brock McClure who led the Cardinals in scoring with 14 points. McClure finished with eight boards, just two shy of his own double-double line.
In watching Lamar fight back into the game down the stretch, one could not help but be impressed with their sticktoitiveness. After getting outclassed in a big way by Tarleton on the glass in the first half, the Cardinals actually finished the game with a 41-33 advantage in total rebounds. Many aspects of the game of basketball are coachable. Hustle and desire are not among them. While Lamar may not win a single WAC basketball game this season, the key will be to use it as a building block for the future.
After snapping their four-game losing streak, Billy Gillispie’s team is now 4-5 in the WAC this season. Tarleton State will try to get back to .500 in conference play on the road this Saturday night against UTRGV.
For Lamar, the next opportunity at that elusive first win in the Western Athletic Conference will come on Saturday afternoon against an all-too-familiar foe. Former Southland Conference rival Abilene Christian will come to the Montagne Center as the schools renew their series in the WAC.