MEN’S COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Francis, McPherson take over in second half as UTPB rolls over Tarleton State

For Daeshon Francis and James McPherson, it didn’t take much more than a few words, or just a nod to one another.

They’ve been through these kinds of battles before together.

Saturday, after halftime, while stepping back onto the floor in a packed Falcon Dome, they both knew it was time for them to take over.

Francis and McPherson did just that and the No. 11 UTPB men’s basketball team pulled away in the second half to earn a 74-67 win over Tarleton State, and lift the Falcons into sole possession of first place in the Lone Star Conference standings at the halfway mark in the league schedule.

Francis scored 13 of his game-high 26 in the second half while McPherson scored 14 of his 19 in the last 20 minutes, and the two senior stars shut down a pair of Texans sharpshooters on the perimeter on the other end, as UTPB soared to a second key win at home this week.

“This one was huge,” McPherson said after the win.

He and Francis both played like it.

The Falcons held a slim 36-33 lead at the break after a back-and-forth first half, but as Francis and McPherson made their presence felt, UTPB pushed its lead to as large as 13 midway through the second half before cruising down the stretch.

Tarleton State knocked down seven of its first 12 3-point shots to open the game and build a strong early lead, before the Falcons answered to take that halftime lead. Then, after the break, Falcons head coach Andy Newman made a defensive adjustment to put Francis on Texans guard Corinthian Ramsey, one of the conference’s most prolific scorers.

After starting 4-for-8 behind the 3-point line, Ramsey was just 1-of-5 from behind the arch in the second half. McPherson’s matchup, guard Deshawn Riddick, hit his first two 3-point shots out the gates Saturday, but from there was limited to 1-of-8 shooting from range the rest of the way.

Meanwhile, Francis and McPherson worked their familiar magic on the offensive side to push the Falcons to 16-2 on the season and 8-1 in the conference.

“I feed off James’ energy, and he feeds off my energy,” Francis said. “We’ve always got to keep each other going.”

Francis, the reigning Lone Star Conference Player of the Year, stands as the league’s leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points per game. McPherson is seventh, scoring 16.4. Together, they have the tightest chemistry on UTPB’s talented roster, in their third season together as teammates. They played together as sophomores at Midland College before transferring to UTPB ahead of last season.

McPherson knocked down four 3-pointers in the second half, with three coming off assists by Francis. A Francis bucket inside and three straight 3-pointers by McPherson made up an 11-2 run for UTPB that stretched a 49-45 Falcons lead to a 60-47 advantage with 8:29 to go in the game.

“We trust each other,” McPherson said. “When one says something to the other, we feel like we’ve got to do it. So he comes to me like, ‘Bro, we’ve got to step up, and we’ve got to do this.’ That’s what we did.

“‘Let’s take over this game. Let’s show them who we are.’”

Tarleton State employed a rarely seen 2-3 zone at times in the second half, but Francis and McPherson, too talented and too cohesive as teammates, made the Texans pay for it. Those three assisted 3-pointers fell when Francis drove into the key, then kicked to McPherson for open shots.

“I just told my team, ‘They’re in this zone, and I’m going to hit some shots and get them up out of it,’” McPherson recounted confidently.

Saturday’s result, coupled with No. 7 West Texas A&M’s 86-82 victory over No. 10 Commerce elsewhere, put UTPB alone at the top of the league standings at the halfway point of the conference race. Both West Texas A&M and Commerce stand 7-2.

Each team in the conference has now played all nine of its conference foes once, and will start to roll through nine rematches starting next week.

Tarleton State entered Saturday’s game with UTPB hot, having downed West Texas A&M on Thursday — but UTPB made sure it wouldn’t be another upset victim.

Thursday night, UTPB defeated Commerce 64-63 on a photo-finish buzzer beater by Sammy Allen, which was reviewed by referees on a courtside monitor before the basket was counted, in line with the call that was made on the floor in live action.

Francis and the Falcons said that comments on social media about that finish helped motivate the team entering Saturday’s game.

In their own posts on social media, Allen and Francis promised replay wouldn’t play a factor in Saturday’s result. After a dominating second half, the Falcons left no room for any questions or second-guesses.

“We’re not here to make friends,” Francis said. “We want to be everybody’s worst enemy, so that’s how we’re going to play.”

The UTPB men swept the Lone Star Conference’s regular-season and tournament titles last season, in the program’s first season as part of the league.

Now, halfway through this season’s league schedule, the Falcons stand alone at the top of the standings again.

“We wanted to make a statement, and prove a point,” McPherson said of Saturday’s win, and that social media stir. “Everybody wants to see us lose, because we’re the top dogs. So they’re going to say whatever they can to down us and everything, but we expect that. We want that.

“We’re just getting started. We’ve got a whole other go-around to go.”

No. 11 UTPB 74, Tarleton State 67

TARLETON STATE (10-8 overall, 5-4 Lone Star Conference)

Corinthian Ramsey 8-17 0-0 21, Josh Hawley 4-8 3-4 14, Deshawn Riddick 3-10 2-2 11, Jaraan Lands 1-4 4-6 6, Anthony Davis 2-5 0-1 5, Preston Enloe 2-6 0-0 4, Clashon Gaffney 2-3 0-0 4, Jesse Hill 1-3 0-1 2, Sam Marshall 0-3 0-0 0, Nosa Ebomwonyi 0-0 0-0 0, Lance Ewell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-59 9-14 67.

UTPB (16-2, 8-1)

Daeshon Francis 9-16 8-8 26, James McPherson 7-14 0-0 19, Sammy Allen 3-9 0-4 6, Amari Bryant 2-5 0-0 6, Andres Villa 3-5 0-0 6, Josh Morris 1-2 2-4 4, Zeldric King 2-3 0-0 4, Garrett Baggett 1-4 0-0 3, Renard Thomas 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-58 10-16 74.

Halftime — UTPB 36, Tarleton State 33. 3-Point goals — Tarleton State 12-33 (Corinthian Ramsey 5-13, Josh Hawley 3-7, Deshawn Riddick 3-7, Anthony Davis 1-1, Preston Enloe 0-3, Sam Marshall 0-2), UTPB 8-22 (James McPherson 5-11, Amari Bryant 2-5, Garrett Baggett 1-4, Daeshon Francis 0-2). Total fouls — Tarleton State 19, UTPB 17. Fouled out — Tarleton State: Jaraan Lands. Technical fouls — None. Rebounds — Tarleton State 31 (Josh Hawley 11), UTPB 44 (Sammy Allen 11). Assists — Tarleton State 11 (Deshawn Riddick 4), UTPB 18 (Sammy Allen 6, Daeshon Francis 6).

Follow Justin Lee on Twitter @OAJustinLee