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ACU wins, still misses Southland conference tournament

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Almost one month since their last win, the ACU Wildcats put together a terrific second-half effort Saturday afternoon to finish off a season sweep of Incarnate Word, snapping a four-game losing streak and clinching the program's first regular-season winning record since 2007-08 with a 69-59 win at the McDermott Center on the UIW campus.

The victory – ACU's first since an 80-69 win over UIW on Feb. 10 in Abilene – put an end to a four-game losing streak that put the Wildcats on the brink of falling out of contention for a spot in the Southland Conference Post-Season Tournament. ACU entered Saturday's regular-season finale needing a win over UIW and losses by McNeese to Lamar and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Houston Baptist to get the No.8 seed in the tournament field.

ACU did its part with the win over Incarnate Word, but was knocked out of the tournament about 15 minutes after the final buzzer sounded when McNeese finished off a 69-60 win over Lamar that knocked the Wildcats from contention for the final spot in the tournament. That spot will go to either McNeese or Corpus, depending on the outcome of Saturday night's Corpus-HBU game in Houston.

The Wildcats, however, finished the regular season at 16-15 overall and are now in a good position to get an at-large bid to either the College Insiders Tournament (CIT) or the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) Tournament. ACU will find out sometime next week whether or not its season will continue.

Still, an emotional ACU head coach Joe Golding was adamant in his post-game comments that he was proud of his team for sticking together through a very tough month of February that saw ACU go 1-6 in the month, the only losing month the Wildcats posted on the season.

"We all learned a lot during these last four weeks," Golding said. "I think we've all been humbled a little bit, and I believe it tested our team in a lot of ways. But while it could have broken us and divided our locker room, it didn't, and I'm very proud of the guys on this team for not letting it happen."

TURNING POINT

ACU led by as many as nine points in the first (27-18) before UIW outscored the Wildcats 19-6 over the final 6:21 of the first half, capped by a 3-pointer by Sam Burmeister just before the first-half buzzer to put his team ahead 37-33.

It didn't take the Wildcats long to get back into the game and regain the lead for good. Jalone Friday hit a pair of 3-pointers, Tevin Foster two free throws and Jaren Lewis a short jumper to bring ACU to within 44-43 with 17:06 left in the first half. Jaylen Franklin then tied the game at 44-44 with 16:05 to play when he hit the first of two free throws.

Franklin's driving layup at the 15:08 mark gave ACU a 46-44 lead and the Wildcats would not trail again. After UIW cut the ACU lead to 48-46, the Wildcats ran off a 13-4 run to push its lead to 61-50 with 4:38 to play. Senior Drake Green's defense in the run as well as the energy provided off the bench by Hayden Howell sparked the run.

Foster had five points in the run, followed by three apiece from Howell ¬– who had a layup and then a three-point play in a key stretch of the second half – and Payten Ricks, whose shot-clock buzzer-beating 3-pointer gave ACU a 52-48 lead with 11:05 left and kick-started the run.

ACU's lead grew to as many as 13 points in the second half before the Wildcats settled for the 10-point victory and their first season sweep of the Cardinals since 2012-13, the final season at the NCAA Division II level for each program.

Friday finished with a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds), while Foster had 17 points (13 of 14 at the free throw line). Franklin finished with 12 points and Lewis 10 points and six rebounds in the Wildcats' winning effort.

THREE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

• The Wildcats' not only clinches the program's first winning season since 2007-08, but is also just the program's sixth winning season in the last 30 years: 17-12 in 1991-92, 15-12 in 1996-97, 22-6 in 1997-98, 21-8 in 1998-99 and 20-9 in 2007-08.

• ACU head coach Joe Golding has been part of four of those six, two as a player (1996-97 and 1997-98), one as an assistant coach (2007-08) and the last as the head coach (2017-18).

• Jalone Friday's 17-point, 11-rebound game Saturday afternoon was his third double-double this season and sixth of his career.

QUOTABLE

ACU head coach Joe Golding on the win …

"This has been a long four weeks, but our guys fought (Saturday). We've got tough kids in that locker room and they found a way to win (Saturday). I'm extremely proud of this team and its effort (Saturday). Obviously we didn't end the regular season the way we wanted to end it because we won't be going to Katy, but there's a lot to be proud of from this win. I'm more proud right now to be the head coach of this program than I have been at any point in my seven years here. We've got a great culture and a locker room full of great young men, and I'm going to be fighting like heck to make sure they get to play again this season."

UP NEXT

The Wildcats will find out next weekend if they have been invited to either the CIT or CBI tournaments.

Courtesy ACU Athletics

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