After coming up short against Stephen F. Austin in what some were calling a measuring stick matchup to see if the Wildcats had arrived as one of the Southland’s top teams, the men bounced back with a convincing 80-63 win over the conference’s early season offensive juggernaut in Central Arkansas on Saturday.
In the early going, neither team could gain much of a cushion, as both teams at 4-3 in the conference heading into the matchup looked evenly matched.
The Sugar Bears did show glimpses of their offensive efficiency, posting a 52 percent field goal percentage in the first half, but the Wildcats hung tough with seven triples in the first 20 minutes and fought to a 38-37 halftime advantage.
The second half began with sophomore Jalone Friday connecting on his first two three-point attempts of the half, and ACU matched its biggest lead of the game at six. But the Sugar Bears, much like they had in the first half battled back, and had the deficit down to two with 13 minutes left in the game. And at that point it looked like the Wildcats would have another game going down to the wire.
However, an inspired effort from Friday and junior Jaylen Franklin would make sure the game was well in hand when the buzzer sounded.
“Well we talked about in the locker room how we have to continue to play how we played in the first half and not turn the ball over and limit UCA to one shot and control the game at our pace and not get into a foot race with them because that’s when they are really good,” Friday said.
Friday would eventually pour in 16 second half points to give him 18 for the game and Franklin added 12 and a couple of vicious dunks to finish with 16, as ACU outscored UCA 25-10 over the remaining 13 minutes of play. The run culminated when junior Jaren Lewis found Franklin on a fast break, and Franklin rose up over a UCA defender on the baseline to throw it down with one hand. On the ensuing possession, grad-transfer Tevin Foster connected with Friday on an alley-oop to bring the score to 78-61.
“I mean I really wasn’t thinking about anything but getting to the rim,” Franklin said. “But I saw him slide over and I was like ‘well this could be the chance to dunk on a seven-footer’ and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity, so I tried it.”
And Franklin succeeded in a big way, with many who have seen the dunk lobbying for it to be a Sportscenter top-play nominee.
The Wildcat’s defensive intensity also played a large part in the second half domination, as the Sugar Bears high-octane offense, averaging 82.6 points per game was held to 31 percent shooting. UCA’s only player to score in double figures was also the Southland’s leading scorer in Jordan Howard. Howard finished with 28 points on 10-for-18 shooting.
“I feel like we came out and really locked in on defense and that led us to playing our game and controlling the game,” Friday said.
With the win ACU now owns the sixth spot in the conference standings at 5-3, while UCA falls to ninth at 4-4. The men wrap up their two-game road trip Wednesday in Corpus Christi against the Islanders who enter the matchup at 1-5.