An out-of-nowhere 23-2 run midway through the second half Thursday afternoon turned a potential loss into one of the ACU Wildcats' best and biggest wins of the season.
The Wildcats – who trailed by 12 points midway through the first half – turned the tide in their favor in the second half as they cruised home with a 78-62 win over Nicholls State in Southland Conference women's basketball action at Stopher Gym, dealing the Colonels just their second home loss of the season.
The win pushes the Wildcats to 16-11 overall and 6-5 in the Southland Conference and guarantees ACU a winning season in its first season at the NCAA Division I level. ACU will be back in action Saturday at 1 p.m. against McNeese State in Lake Charles, La., before closing out its longest road trip of the season Monday at Southeastern Louisiana at 1 p.m. At 6-5 in league play, ACU has the third-fewest losses of any team in the Southland (Central Arkansas 11-3, Lamar 10-3, Stephen F. Austin 9-5).
The loss dealt a potentially devastating blow to Nicholls State's chances at earning a first-round bye in the upcoming Southland Conference Post-Season Tournament. The Colonels are now 13-12 overall and 9-6 in the league, 1.5 games behind second-place Lamar in the chase for one of the league's two opening-round byes. The Colonels will host Incarnate Word at 1 p.m. Saturday.
The Wildcats trailed 46-38 with 14:36 left in the second half after Nicholls State's electric point guard Emani White – the league's leading scorer at 19.2 points per game – hit a layup to give her team an eight-point lead and all the momentum. ACU would cut the lead to 46-43 before White hit two more free throws to make it 48-43 with 12:42 to play in the game.
But that's when the Wildcats flipped the script and ran away with the game. Starting with a Jessica Elkins 3-pointer at the 12:21 mark through a Suzzy Dimba layup at the 8:48 mark, the Wildcats went on a remarkable 23-2 run to seize control of the game.
Following the Elkins 3-pointer – her only 3-pointer of the game – White turned the ball over to the Wildcats, who saw Suzzy Dimba miss a 3-pointer. But Renata Marquez grabbed the rebound, drove to the bucket, split a pair of defenders and laid it in to tie the game at 48-48 with 11:26 to play.
Alexis Mason (19 points on 6 of 10 shooting, including 4 of 8 from 3-point range) hit a pair of free throws to give ACU a 50-48 lead with 11:05 to play, its first lead since it was 6-5 a little more than two minutes into the game.
Marquez followed the free throws with another layup and Whitney West hit a layup to make it a 54-48 game with 10:21 to play. Mason then buried a 3-pointer to push the lead to 57-48 with 9:45 left, and then Marquez took a beautiful assist from West and hit a fast-break layup to make it a 59-48 game with 9:24 to play. Suzzy Dimba put an end to the game-breaking run with a layup on an assist from her twin sister, Lizzy Dimba, pushing the Wildcats' lead to 61-48 with 8:48 to play in the game.
The Wildcats got even contributions throughout the run with Marquez posting six of her team-high 22 points in the spurt, while Mason added five, Lizzy Dimba had four, Elkins and West with three apiece and Suzzy Dimba with two points. During the run the Wildcats were 9 of 10 from the field, pulled down six rebounds and didn't have a turnover. Conversely, Nicholls State was 0 for 8 from the field, pulled down just two rebounds and turned the ball over four times.
The Colonels, however, managed to cut the ACU lead to seven points with 5:27 to play on a Jasmine Scott layup that cut the advantage to 63-56. But ACU answered with three straight cold-blooded 3-pointers from Mason at the 5:15 mark, Marquez at the 4:08 mark and Mason again with 3:31 to play to push the lead back to 72-58 and putting an end to the Colonels' chances.
While Marquez finished with 22 points and Mason had 19, Suzzy Dimba posted her 10th double-double in a fine freshman season with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Her twin sister, Lizzy Dimba, had a game-high 13 rebounds to go along with nine points.
ACU – one of the top 3-point shooting teams in NCAA Division I basketball – started the game 1 of 14 from 3-point range, but hit 8 of its final 19 shots from beyond the arc to finish the game at 27.3 percent from 3-point range. More importantly, the Wildcats were 27 of 53 overall from the field, including going 18 of 20 (90 percent) from inside the arc.
The Wildcats dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Colonels 44-32 and held the league's top 3-point shooting team in terms of percentage to just 4 of 20 from beyond the arc (20 percent). The Colonels, in fact, missed their last five 3-pointers of the first half and all seven of their 3-pointers in the second half.
ACU trailed 25-13 with 9:12 left in the first half, but managed to cut the lead to 27-25 with a 12-2 spurt keyed by Marquez (four points), Suzzy Dimba (four points) and a Mason 3-pointer. But the Colonels responded with a run of their own to push the lead back to 37-28 with 2:40 left in the half on a bucket by Scott. But the Wildcats closed the half with some momentum as West buried back-to-back 3-pointers at the 47-second mark and the 20-second mark, respectively, to cut ACU's halftime deficit to just 37-34, setting the stage for the second-half comeback.
Information provided by ACU athletics department.