The men’s basketball team won its home opener Tuesday night against Hillsdale Free Will Baptist, 93-53, in front of an enthusiastic Moody crowd as part of ACU’s third annual Christmas Slam. With the win, ACU moves to 3-8 on the season, while Hillsdale falls below .500 with a 4-5 record. It was the fifth time the two teams met; ACU now leads the series, winning four of the five games.
“It was such a great boost from all the students who were at the game,” head coach Joe Golding said. “To see that and to get a huge turnout like that, it was really a step in the right direction and it really helps the program.”
Defense leading to offense was the story for the Wildcats, as they held the visiting Saints to just 30 percent shooting, compared to ACU’s 54. Hillsdale also committed 22 turnovers on the night, 15 of which came from steals by the home squad. The Wildcats were able to capitalize on those turnovers as they converted 23 fast break points.
“We just want to keep getting better,” junior guard Harrison Hawkins said. “We know we have our struggles defensively, but tonight was a perfect night for us to go out and prove ourselves and it worked out for us.”
Wildcats got production from all up and down the lineup as every player entered into the game for the first time this year. Hawkins led all ACU scorers with 16 points on 7-10 shooting. He also added three assists and three steals. Junior forward Jacob Lancaster registered his second solid game in a row with a double-double of 13 points and 15 rebounds, including four blocked shots.
“[Lancaster] is getting better every day,” Golding said. “He continues to work with coach [Brette] Tanner and the other bigs down low and now we’re starting to see him really produce. We’ve got to get him to be more consistent, but when he has big nights like this, it really helps our program.”
Junior guard LaDarrien Williams and sophomore guard Parker Wentz each finished with 14 points on a combined 4-8 from three-point land. As a team, the Wildcats shot 7-18 from downtown, but were just 12-24 from the free throw line.
“As a team, we want to be balanced and always have a solid attack so we can grab wins,” Hawkins said. “It was so great being home and seeing all the purple and white in the crowd. The crowd was so warm and welcoming to us, and it just feels really good to be back home.”
The Wildcats went into halftime with a comfortable lead after making a late end of the half run to push the score to 46-20. Back-to-back threes from Wentz sparked a run from the Wildcats that the Saints were not able to overcome. ACU started off the game on a 14-3 run, which later turned into a 20-point lead early on. Lancaster registered six points, four rebounds and three blocks in the first six minutes of the game.
ACU controlled the battle for the paint as they outscored Hillsdale 55-20 close to the basket and out-rebounded them 48-31. Sophomore forward Austin Cooke was second on the team with nine rebounds, as he also added seven points, seven assists and two steals.
The game against Hillsdale was the first of a four-game home stand, as the Wildcats will play their next three games at home and, overall, eight of their next 10 will be played in Moody Coliseum. The Wildcats continue their season with Open Bible College on Friday night at 6 p.m.