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ACU completes comeback to win conference opener

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In every season there will be nights when teams have to overcome a bad start and find a way to win. Or dig out of a bad start to get a comeback win. Or overcome poor shooting and too many turnovers and figure out how to walk out of the gym with a victory.

The ACU Wildcats had all of that happen to them in the same game Wednesday evening, yet they were able to overcome it all to take a 68-58 win over New Orleans in the Southland Conference opener for both teams at Moody Coliseum.

New Orleans caught a cold-shooting team flat-footed right out of the gate, jumping to an 18-4 lead in the first half and looking like it might run away and hide from the Wildcats. But head coach Joe Golding's veteran-laden team fought back to get to within 33-26 at halftime, setting the stage for one of the best second halves the Wildcats have played this season.

After shooting just 35 percent in the first half, the Wildcats shot 58 percent in the game's final 20 minutes, while limiting the Privateers to just 38 percent second-half shooting and just 17 points in the first 15 minutes of the second half.

ACU got to within six points early in the second half, but the Privateers answered with a run of their own to go back in front, 42-31, with 16:05 to play on a layup by Jahmel Myers. But that's when the game turned in the Wildcats' favor.

ACU junior guard Payten Ricks came up with a steal and had a breakaway lined up when he was fouled hard by Bryson Robinson, collapsing underneath the ACU goal. Robinson was assessed a Flagrant 2 foul, earning him an ejection and giving Ricks two free throws and his team the ball. He made the second of the free throws and, after the teams swapped turnovers, Jaylen Franklin swooped in for a layup — his first bucket of the night — to cut the UNO lead to 42-34 with 14:42 to play.

Starting with that bucket, ACU outscored the Privateers 36-16 to over the final 14:42 to take the victory, improving to 3-0 against New Orleans in Abilene. The free throw by Ricks led by to back-to-back buckets by Franklin and then a 3-pointer from Ricks to cut the UNO lead to 44-39 with 12:43 to play. B.J. Maxwell buried a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 44-42 with 11:55 left before the teams traded free throws by Ezekiel Charles and Jaren Lewis to leave UNO with a 46-44 lead with 11:17 to play.

Junior forward Hayden Farquhar — who filled in admirably for foul-plagued Jalone Friday — hit a layup to tie the game at 46-46 and then after Troy Green's jumper gave UNO a 48-46 lead, Maxwell buried a 3-pointer with 9:36 to play to give ACU its first lead of the night at 49-48. The Wildcats wouldn't trail the rest of the game.

Ricks followed Maxwell's 3-pointer with one of his own before a steal by Franklin led to a fast-break dun and a 54-48 ACU lead with 8:54 left in the game. After another turnover by UNO, Franklin hit a short jumper before another turnover by UNO (steal by Farquhar) led to 1 of 2 free throws by Farquhar and a 57-48 lead with 7:57 left in the contest.

Maxwell hit two free throws with 7:23 left to give ACU a 59-48 lead, capping a 27-6 run that turned an 10-point ACU deficit into an 11-point ACU advantage. UNO got back to within 61-55 with 2:54 left, but Friday — who scored 11 early points but sat out a significant portion of the second half with foul trouble — buried a baseline hook shot on a feed from Maxwell to give the Wildcats a 63-55 lead.

After a UNO free throw, Ricks rammed home another 3-pointer on another feed from Maxwell to give ACU an insurmountable 66-56 lead with 1:46 to play. The victory pushes the Wildcats to 12-2 overall and 1-0 in the Southland, while the Privateers fall to 5-7 and 0-1.

Recap courtesy of ACU Athletics

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