It wasn’t pretty, and it sure wasn’t easy. But the men’s basketball team did something Tuesday night that no other team in the conference had done: beat Houston Baptist University.
The Wildcats handed the HBU Huskies their first conference loss of the season, 79-72, and ended their 10-game winning streak.
ACU moves to 5-4 in conference and remain perfect at home during league play, at 4-0. HBU now stands at 8-1 in the Southland.
“It’s a big win, I’m really proud of these guys and the heart they showed tonight,” head coach Joe Golding said. “It was a crazy finish and honestly, I don’t remember half of it, but it’s an incredible feeling.”
The Wildcats held a 50-29 lead at halftime, using a 17-0 run to break things open. HBU returned with a 16-0 run over six minutes in the first part of the second half to make it 58-50 Wildcats with 9:23 to go in the game. A game-changing set of events ensued, as sophomore guard Isaiah Tripp was sent to the free throw line on an HBU flagrant foul. Tripp sank both free throws, ending ACU’s six and a half minute scoring drought.
Senior guard Parker Wentz came alive on the following possessions for ACU. Wentz hit a pair of three-point buckets to push the lead back up, 68-50, and then recorded a steal on the other end of the court, which he followed up with a trip to the line and hitting both free throws to make it 70-53 ACU with six minutes to go.
Over the final five minutes, HBU, the top scoring team in the Southland Conference, would go on a 19-3 run to make it a three-point game with 46 seconds to go. The Wildcats 25-point lead had been shaved to a single-possession ball game.
In the final seconds, ACU turned to their offensive leader, Franklin, for the close out. On a one-on-one ball screen, Franklin drove left past his defender and was able to lay the ball around the HBU rim protector off the glass for the layup to make it 77-72 Wildcats with 22 seconds to go. After missing on the following possession, HBU fouled freshman forward Jaren Lewis who hit both free throws, securing one of the biggest wins for ACU men’s basketball since the Div. I transition.
“Coach just told me that this was my chance to lead us home and end it,” Franklin said. “I saw the screen coming and saw my defender shift his weight. Once I took off, I knew he couldn’t keep up with me and luckily it went down.”
Franklin dropped in 21 points, 16 coming in the first half. Franklin struggled in the second half, going 2-11 from the field, but came up big when it mattered. He added six rebounds, five assists and two steals.
“I just tried to stay aggressive,” Franklin said. “Shots were going in the first half, but I couldn’t get anything to go in the second. Coach told me to stay aggressive and keep driving and try to make something happen.”
Wentz scored 18 points and went 5-7 from beyond the arc, tying his season-high with five makes. The 18 points are his highest output of the season since his 21 points against Colorado State on Nov. 24.
Freshman forward Hayden Howell continues to show progress, as he added 12 points on 5-8 shooting while grabbing four rebounds in 17 minutes off the bench. Senior guard Jalen Little was the fourth Wildcat to finish in double-digits, contributing 11 points on a perfect shooting night, 5-5 from the field.
The Wildcats trailed 18-17 with 11:04 to go in the first half before rattling off an unconscious 17-0 scoring run. ACU would score five times from beyond the arc over the next four minutes, with Franklin hitting two threes, and Wentz, senior forward Austin Cooke and Little all adding treys to make it 34-18 with 6:43 to go in the half.
Things seemed to go from bad to worse for HBU after Little found Franklin for a two-handed alley-oop dunk. Wentz would knock down back-to-back three-pointers and Howell would hit two well-contested post shots to end the half, 50-29 ACU.
For the second game in a row, the Wildcats battled foul trouble. More in this game than the last against Lamar however, it seemed to be less of ACU mistakes and more questionable officiating. In the first half, ACU attempted three shots from the charity stripe, while HBU put up 12. That trend only continued into the second half, as the Wildcats went 11-17 from the line, only to have 18-25 over the final 20 minutes.
At the halfway mark of the second half, the Wildcats had been whistled for 22 fouls while the Huskies were called for 13. Three Wildcats ultimately fouled out and two others ended the night with four fouls.
Senior guard Anthony Odusni led the way for the visiting Huskies. He finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, while going 10-13 from the line. Junior forward Colter Lasher dropped 14 points and hit two of four three-point attempts. HBU’s talented big man, sophomore center Josh Ibarra, who scored eight of the Huskies first 10 points of the game, finished the night with 10 points and two rebounds before fouling out and picking up a technical foul early in the second half.
The Wildcats will look to build on this momentum, as it’s the first time this season ACU has won back-to-back conference games. ACU will face Southeastern Louisiana and a rematch against Lamar on Saturday and Monday on the road.