The Wildcats’ Southland Conference Tournament hopes took their biggest hit yet, as Central Arkansas clinched a 74-72 buzzer-beating win over ACU on Saturday.
The game was tightly contested as the Sugar Bears built a 41-35 lead at the half, propelled by 17 first half points from the conference’s leading scorer, Jordan Howard. Neither team found much breathing room as UCA built an eight-point lead at the 13-minute mark, but ACU responded to gain an eight-point advantage of its own with 7:34 left in the game.
However, the Wildcat offense stumbled late, and the Sugar Bears broke off a 15-5 run to tie the game at 72-72 with 51 seconds left. The Wildcats could not convert on their next possession, and that’s when heartbreak hit for ACU.
With just three seconds on the clock, Howard fired a three-pointer and was off the mark, but Thatch Unruh found the offensive rebound and converted the put-back, as UCA skated out of Abilene with the thrilling 74-72 victory.
Howard finished with a game-high 29 points, and sophomore Jalone Friday lead the Wildcats with 15. Junior Jaren Lewis also added a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Although the loss was detrimental to ACU and pushed them to the eighth spot in the conference standings, its tournament hopes are slim but still alive.
The easiest route would be for the Wildcats to win their last two games on the road and hope for a McNeese State loss against either Texas A&M-Corpus Christi or Lamar. However, that will require ACU to defeat perennial powerhouse Stephen F. Austin on its home court Wednesday night.
The Wildcats have defeated the Lumberjacks just once since moving to Div. 1, and earlier this year they had as good a shot as any when the two met in Moody. ACU held a 44-33 halftime lead, but SFA outscored the Wildcats by 21 in the second half to secure a 76-66 victory.
Now the Lumberjacks sit third in the conference at 12-4 with plenty of late season, big-game experience and await the Wildcats with the league’s second scoring offense and top scoring margin. SFA is coming off a 71-66 loss to Lamar on Saturday, but throttled UCA 97-62 the game before that.
If ACU is to lose Wednesday night, all hope for a tournament spot is not lost, but it would require a win over Incarnate Word on Saturday and two losses from both McNeese and TAMU-CC.