ACU hoops wins both key games against Islanders
ABILENE, Texas —
In late January in the throes of a conference race, nothing is ever easy.
The ACU Wildcats learned that lesson the hard way last week in a heartbreaking loss at Stephen F. Austin and almost suffered a similar fate Wednesday night at home against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Wildcats built a 17-point second-half lead only to see it evaporate as the Islanders came storming back to take a lead with a little more than six minutes remaining, trying to remain perfect all-time against the Wildcats.
But ACU responded with several huge plays down the stretch from a handful of players to lead the Wildcats to a 78-71 win over the Islanders at Moody Coliseum. The win over Corpus is the first in program history after nine straight losses since ACU re-joined the Southland Conference in 2013-14.
ACU built a comfortable 61-44 cushion with 12:28 left in the game after Payten Ricks was fouled on a made 3-pointer for the second time in the game and converted the free throw for a four-point play. The Wildcat appeared to be on cruise control to their 11th home of the season without a loss when Corpus got off the mat and started throwing haymakers.
The Islanders ran off a 22-4 run over the seven minutes to take a 66-65 lead with less than six minutes to play. Eight different Corpus players scored in the run with no one scoring more than four points (Tre Gray and Kareem South). Corpus took its first lead since 2-0 with 6:08 to play when Elijah Schmidt converted a three-point play to make it 64-63.
ACU senior forward Hayden Farquhar came off the bench and grabbed his own miss and laid it back in to put the Wildcats back in front (65-64) only to see South hit a jumper at the 5:23 mark to give the Islanders a 66-65 lead.
But the Wildcats responded, outscoring the Islanders 13-5 over the final 4:27 to pull out the win and improve to 18-4 overall and 7-2 in the Southland Conference. ACU is alone in second place, 1 1/2 games behind Sam Houston State, which improved to 8-0 in the league Wednesday with a road win at Southeastern Louisiana.
Farquhar — who had nine points off the bench — was fouled at the 4:27 mark and hit a pair of free throws to put ACU back in front 67-66, a lead it would not relinquish the rest of the night. Jaylen Franklin came up with a steal near midcoast with four minutes left and he was fouled by South just before he could break away for a sure dunk. After sitting down for the media timeout, Franklin calmly sank both free throws to give ACU a 69-66 advantage.
Tre Gray made the second of two free throws with 3:30 to play to cut the ACU lead to 69-67 and after Trey Lenox missed a 3-point attempt, Irshaad Hunte grabbed the defensive rebound for the Islanders, who went to the offensive end with a chance to tie or take the lead. But Lenox drew the biggest charge of his life at the 2:52 when Elijah Schmidt ran him over. That charge turned into points on the other end when B.J. Maxwell — who came into the game just seconds before after getting an earful from head coach Joe Golding for a couple of miscues earlier in the second half — buried a 3-pointer off a nice feed from Jaren Lewis, pushing the ACU advantage to 72-67 at the 2:33 mark.
After a layup by South cut the lead to 72-6 at the 2:14 mark, Lewis threw the ball away on a side inbounds play with 1:18 left and the Islanders made ACU pay as Tony Lewis hit a jumper with 54 seconds left and ACU's lead was down to 72-71.
But Jaren Lewis atoned for the mistake by scoring the last of his 18 points with 30 seconds to play when he buried a jumper in the lane to make it 74-71. Corpus missed on the other end and Maxwell grabbed a tough rebound and went to the line after he was fouled. He made both free throws to make it 76-71 with 20 seconds left, and after Ricks grabbed another defensive rebound with four seconds to play, he iced the win with a pair of free throws.
Lewis and Ricks each had 18 points for the Wildcats, while Maxwell had 16 to go along with six rebounds and three steals. Franklin scored just the two points, but he also had four rebounds, six assists and six steals in 33 game-controlling minutes. With those six steals, Franklin — who is 11th among active Division I players in steals — now has 202 in his career to go along with 444 assists.
ACU is off Saturday, but returns to action next Wednesday in Beaumont as it takes on Lamar to start the second half of league play. The Wildcats will be back at Moody Coliseum on Saturday, Feb. 9, as they host Sam Houston State in a huge doubleheader with the women's game set to start at 3:30 p.m., followed by the men's game at 6 p.m.
Recap courtesy of ACU Athletics