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ACU men take down Stephen F. Austin

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ABILENE, Texas - Not long after watching his freshman point guard, Payten Ricks, turn the ball over and then pass up an open shot in a 10-0 Stephen F. Austin blitz to start the second half, ACU head coach Joe Golding screamed at out Ricks words that would end up being prophetic later on in the game.

"Play with some confidence! Take a shot if you're wide open," Golding screamed at Ricks, to which the freshman replied with a shrug of the shoulders and an understanding nod.

From that point on, Ricks was the difference as the Wildcats were able to knock off three-time defending Southland Conference champion Stephen F. Austin, 69-60, in the program's biggest conference win since beginning its transition to NCAA Division I affiliation, and, arguably, the biggest win of Golding's six seasons with the Wildcats.

Ricks led all scorers with 15 points off the bench, hitting 4 of 8 from the field (1 of 2 from 3-point range) and drilling 6 of 7 from the free throw line. That effort at the line was part of a much better showing at the stripe for ACU on Saturday (23 of 34) than in Thursday's loss to Central Arkansas when ACU was 7 of 20 at the line.

"Patten Ricks was special (Saturday), and we needed him to be special," Golding said. "We ran everything through him and he didn't back down from the responsibility."

ACU led 33-21 at the break after a superior defensive effort, the best the Wildcats have put in since before the Christmas break. But SFA answered by opening the second half on a10-0 run that was sparked by a pair of 3-pointers. They eventually got the game tied 36-36 with 14:32 to play on 3-pointer by veteran Ty Charles.

But as they would each of the three times that SFA tied the game in the second half, the Wildcats responded as Ricks hit a driving layup down the right side of the lane to make it 38-36 with 14:16 left in the contest. On ACU's next possession, he hit a short jumper in the lane to push the lead back to four points, and then Jaren Lewis hit a jumper to increase ACU's lead to 42-36.

SFA would rally to tie the game at 42-42 with 9:!1 left before Lewis buried a huge 3-pointer on an assist from Jaylen Franklin with 8:47 left in the game. After a short jumper in the lane by Franklin made it a 47-42 ACU lead with 8:06 left, the Lumberjacks responded with a 5-0 spurt to tie the game at 47-47 with 5:45 left.

But Isaiah Tripp was fouled and went to the free throw line where he calmly buried a pair of free throws to put ACU back up by two points. Ricks then hit two free throws before Hayden Howell hit a shot to make it a 53-49 ACU lead with 4:24 to play. After a Dallas Cameron made a free throw to make it 53-50 with 4:01 left, Ricks responded with the biggest shot of his short ACU career, burying a 3-pointer off a feed from Franklin to push the ACU lead back to six points (56-50) with 3:43 left.

That kick-started a 7-0 run that saw Franklin convert a three-point play and Tripp hit a free throw to make it 60-50 with 2:14 to play. Ricks was 4 for 4 at the line in the final 1:28, Tripp hit a pair of free throws with 23 seconds left, and Franklin hit a fast-break layup on a feed from Lewis with seven seconds to play to ice the game.

The win snapped ACU's five-game losing streak and pushes them to 7-8 overall and 1-3 in the league, while SFA drops to 6-9 and 0-3. The win also snapped ACU's nine-game losing streak vs. SFA and pushes the Wildcats to 5-2 at home this season.

"The 3-pointer from Payten was huge, and for him to want to step up and take the shot and then hit it was big," Golding said. "It's never easy getting out of a rut like we've been in, but I'm proud of our guys for continuing to work. We've got a great locker room with great kids, and I knew they wouldn't give up even after the disappointing loss (last Thursday night).

"We've talked for the last 36 hours about fighting to get a win and chasing the lion because SFA is the lion in this league," he said. "I wasn't surprised at all that they came back early in the second half and made it a dogfight the rest of the way. But you have to guard and make plays to win games, and we were able to do that and get a big win."

Aside from Ricks, Franklin finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals in 37 minutes, while Lewis had 10 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals in 32 minutes.

Courtesy of ACU Sports Information.

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