Lake Charles, LA - More often than not, road victories don’t come easy.
That was the case Thursday night for the ACU Wildcats, who fought and scratched for everything they got before walking out of Burton Coliseum with an 82-78 win over a McNeese team desperate to keep its season pointed toward a post-season Southland Conference Tournament bid.
For the Wildcats, it was their first road win since an 85-82 overtime victory at Charleston Southern back on Dec. 3, snapping an eight-game losing streak away from Moody Coliseum. The win was also ACU’s first road victory in Southland Conference play this season, and it pushed them back to the brink of .500 as they improved to 12-13 overall and 6-8 in league play.
ACU is one of the hottest teams in the league, having won four of its last five games after starting conference 2-7. The win also kept alive ACU’s hopes of finishing above .500 and perhaps receiving a bid to either the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) or the College Insider Tournament (CIT). ACU has to finish above .500 to get a bid to either of those tournaments, and right now the Wildcats can still finish either 15-14 or 16-13 and possibly get a bid to one of the two tournaments.
The loss for McNeese, was a devastating blow to its hopes of reaching the conference’s post-season bash in Katy as the No. 8 seed. The Cowboys are now 7-18 on the season and 4-10 in league play and in 12th place in the 13-team league after the loss.
Neither team could gain much of an advantage Thursday night with ACU holding the largest lead of the game (18-9 very early) before the Cowboys came back to tie it at 20-20. The game went to the half tied at 34-34 on a Jaylen Franklin fast-break layup just before the halftime buzzer. Without leading scorer Jalone Friday scoring in the first half, sophomore forward Hayden Farquhar picked up the slack, scoring 11 of his 16 points in the first half as he buried 3 of 4 shots from 3-point range.
Farquhar finished with the first double-double of his career as he scored 16 points (career-high 4 of 6 from 3-point range) to go along with a career-high 11 rebounds. Franklin — who scored 10 points in the first half — also had his first career double-double as he finished with 15 points and 10 assists.
The second half played out much like the first half as the the two teams battled back and forth before ACU was able to stretch the lead out to 69-64 on a pair of Hayden Howell free throws with 5:30 to play.
But Jamaya Burr was fouled on a 3-point attempt on McNeese’s next trip down the floor and he hit all three free throws to cut ACU’s lead back to 69-67. But Jalone Friday — who had 16 of his team-high 18 points in the second half — flushed a dunk on an assist from Franklin to put the Wildcats back in front, 71-67, with 4:51 left in the game.
After Adrian Brown converted a three-point play to cut ACU’s lead to 73-72 with 3:12 to play, the Wildcats went almost exclusively to Friday, who fouled out both LaBarrius Hill and Stephen Ugochukwu in the final few minutes with moves to the basket. Friday scored five straight points for the Wildcats to a 78-74 lead with 1:30 to play. But the Cowboys wouldn’t quit as Brown had a dunk with 1:20 to play to make it a 78-76 game, and Richard Laku followed a miss with a slam to tie the game at 78-78 with 44 seconds to play.
The Wildcats, however, didn’t let it slip away as they went right back inside to Friday, who was fouled on his way to the basket, and made both free throws with 30.1 seconds to play to give his team an 80-78 lead. McNeese had a chance to play for the last shot, but Laku’s wild turnaround 3-point attempt from the left arc was long and Drake Green grabbed the rebound. He was fouled and buried both free throws with five seconds to play to seal the win for the Wildcats.
Friday finished with 18 points and five rebounds and was 10 for 12 from the free throw line, leading an outstanding ACU effort at the line where they were 20 of 26 for the game, but were 11 for 12 at the stripe in the last 6:05 and 7 for their last 7 in the final 2:58. Green scored a career-high 16 points off the bench by hitting a career-best 4 of 8 from 3-point range.
• The Wildcats entered the game hitting just 65 percent at the free throw line, but were 20 of 26 (76.9 percent) from the free throw line in Thursday night’s win.
• The Wildcats’ 82 points marked just the fourth time this season they’ve topped 80 points in a game, and only the third time in regulation. The last time ACU scored 80 or more points was in an 88-86 overtime loss at Sacramento State on Dec. 17.
• ACU (nine turnovers) and McNeese (seven turnovers) combined for 16 first-half turnovers Thursday night, but combined for just five in the second half with ACU turning the ball over three times and McNeese twice.
• As he did in last Saturday’s win over Northwestern State, sophomore forward Hayden Howell came alive in the second half for the Wildcats, scoring all six of his points, blocking one shot and collecting three of his six rebounds in 14 second-half minutes.
“I was proud of the way we gutted out the last few minutes and came out with the win. That’s something we haven’t done much of this season on the road, but this was big for us. At times it wasn’t pretty — we turned the ball over way too much in the first half — but sometimes it’s like that on the road. You’ve got to be able to win when it’s ugly, and we were able to do that (Thursday night).” — ACU head coach Joe Golding
The Wildcats are off this weekend, but return home next Wednesday (Feb. 22) to take on Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in a 7:30 p.m. game in Moody Coliseum. The game will be broadcast on 98.1 FM The Ticket with the Voice of the Wildcats Grant Boone calling the play-by-play action.
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