ACU women lose nailbiter, men take down Lamar on the road

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Earlier this season, ESPN basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said that after watching the ACU Wildcats play that they would be a season-long factor in the Southland Conference because, as he said, “they have more seniors than a retirement home.”

Fraschilla was right, and Wednesday night it was one of those seniors who rose up and led the Wildcats to a huge 75-64 road win over Lamar, keeping the Wildcats in second place in the league standings. ACU is now19-4 overall and 8-2 in the league and trails Sam Houston (15-8 and 10-0) by two games.

The Wildcats will have a chance to slice into that deficit Saturday at 6 p.m. when they host the Bearkats in the biggest men’s game Moody Coliseum has seen in more than 25 years.

ACU got to 19 wins Wednesday night thanks in large part to the second-half effort of senior point guard Jaylen Franklin, who scored 20 of his game-high 22 points in the game’s final 20 minutes. It was Franklin’s second 20-point game of the season and 13th of his illustrious career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

With leading scorer Jaren Lewis struggling from the field (3 of 13 for eight points) and second-leading scorer Jalone Friday limited to just three second-half points because of foul trouble, the Wildcats needed someone to step up. As has been the case all season, someone did. This time it was Franklin, who continually pounded the ball into the paint for finger rolls, layups and a couple of kisses off the glass. And Franklin – a career 55 percent free-throw shooter — hit 4 of 6 from the line.

ACU led 33-31 at the half, but saw Lamar jump out to a 7-2 start to the second half to take a 38-35 lead. But the Wildcats answered with a 16-3 run over a nearly seven-minute span to take a 51-41 lead over the Cardinals. Franklin had six points in the run and Lewis, Hayden Farquhar, Payten Ricks, Joe Pleasant and B.J. Maxwell also did some good work in the run that gave ACU the separation it needed.

Franklin then took over the in the final eight minutes as he scored at the 8:07 mark to push ACU back in front 55-46, then hit again in the paint with 6:06 left to give ACU a 62-50 advantage. He made one free throw at the 5:20 mark to make it 63-52 and then he scored on three straight ACU possessions at 4:15, 3:34 and then again at 2:50 to keep comfortably in front. His final field goal of the game at the 2:50 mark gave ACU a 69-57 lead and sent the Lamar faithful headed for the exits.

“Jay Frank was special tonight,” ACU head coach Joe Golding said. “I told the guys at halftime that if we could get a lead and a little bit of separation that we could lock them down and that’s what we were able to do. We found something with Jay Frank late in the game and he took us the rest of the way.”

Aside from his game-high 22 points, Franklin added six rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 34 minutes.

“(Wednesday night) was about getting to the rim,” Franklin said, “and making the best plays I could make. We’re a tough team to guard because Payten and B.J. Maxwell are shooting it so well from the outside and Jaren and Jalone are playing well on the inside. Tonight they tried those guys away and it gave me a chance to drive the ball.”

Nine different Wildcats scored as Golding got contributions up and down the lineup. Ricks was held to just eight points, but his defense on Lamar guard Nick Garth — 6 of 21 shooting from the field, including just 1 of 10 from 3-point range — played a huge factor in the game. Freshman guard Damien Daniels had three assists, Pleasant had nine points and three rebounds off the bench and freshman forward Clay Gayman had some of his best minutes of the season with two points, three rebounds and one assist.

Now the Wildcats get their shot to avenge a 71-68 loss at Sam Houston State back on Jan. 5 in a game in which they trailed by 25 near the end of the first half.

“This is the next game on the schedule,” Golding said. “We’ll get back Thursday and watch tape and get a lift in, go to class and get some rest. Then we’ll hit the floor Friday and practice and be ready to go Saturday. These guys deserve a great crowd for that game. I’ve heard for the last few years that people will come if we’re winning. Well, we’ve won 19 games and we’re in second place in the league and we’ve got the first-place team coming to our gym Saturday.”

Courtesy ACU Athletics

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