Former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie nearly shocked college basketball Monday night

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  • Billy Gillispie
    Billy Gillispie
    American college basketball coach

On Monday night, former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie came close to pulling off by far the biggest upset in college basketball so far this season. Or maybe many seasons.

In his second year as the head coach at Tarleton State, Gillispie’s Texans took Gonzaga deep into the second half before losing 64-55 to the third-ranked Bulldogs, who were a 32-point favorite.

In the second season of a four-year transition period into Division I, Tarleton has held its own against an ambitious schedule, losing by 12 points at Stanford, 26 at Kansas, 14 at Wichita State and 11 at Michigan. Gillispie’s club brought a 1-5 record to Spokane on Monday.

Still, Gonzaga Coach Mark Few warned before the game, ““There is not a team we will play all year that plays harder and plays better defense than Tarleton.”

Few was right. Tarleton’s slowdown style and tough defense forced the Zags to shoot just 34.8 percent from the floor in the first half. Gonzaga made just one of nine three-point shots over the first 20 minutes. In fact, Gonzaga went without a single made field goal from the 8:16 mark until there were just 42 seconds left in the first half.

Up 26-25 at the break, Gonzaga didn’t take the lead for good until former Kentucky commit Nolan Hickman hit a three-pointer for a 49-46 Gonzaga advantage with 9:59 left. Gonzaga didn’t start pulling away until taking a 59-49 lead with 2:20 remaining.

Raisor Bolton led Gonzaga with 17 points and Chet Holmgren added 15, but the game’s high scorer was Tarleton’s Tahj Small with 25.

Tarleton State head coach Billy Gillispie directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
Tarleton State head coach Billy Gillispie directs his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Gonzaga, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

For the Zags, Tarleton was sandwiched between Gonzaga’s 84-81 loss to now No. 1-ranked Duke on Friday in Las Vegas and a game against No. 16 Alabama in Seattle on Saturday.

“You come back and you see the name of a school that you don’t recognize, but you get warned,” Few told the Spokesman-Review afterward. “I don’t even know if that was a factor, it was just Tarleton was really good and tough to run stuff against. But we were able to figure it out and get our way through it.”

After going 70-26 in three seasons at Texas A&M, Gillispie was Kentucky’s coach for just two seasons, 2007-2008 and 2008-09. After being fired by UK, he was the head coach at Texas Tech in 2011-12 before being let go after an 8-23 record and questions about how he treated his players.

Since then, Gillispie was the coach at Ranger Junior College before being named the head coach at Tarleton State on March 30, 2020. The Texans went 10-10 last season. They are in their second year in the Western Athletic Conference.

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