By Michael Freeman, Assistant Sports Editor
The ACU men’s basketball team matched the best start since the 1979-80 season, after a 73-63 victory over an undermanned Eastern New Mexico squad Tuesday in Moody Coliseum.
No. 14 ACU upped their record to 15-2 overall and 2-0 in the Lone Star Conference South Division with the win, that matched the 15-2 start of 1979-80 Wildcats, the best 17-game record in school history. Eastern New Mexico is now 6-12 on the season and 0-3 in the conference.
“We’re all excited,” guard Brandon Callahan said. “It’s a dream come true for me. Playing at other schools, I haven’t been on a nationally ranked team. So, it’s an exciting atmosphere.”
Even though only seven Eastern New Mexico players were available to play in Tuesday’s game, the Greyhounds stayed neck and neck with the Wildcats throughout most of the game. But ACU took over in the latter part of the second half to down Eastern New Mexico.
Forward Cameron Holson led the way for the Wildcats with 16 points and six rebounds. Forward Dejan Sencanski finished the game with a double-double of 12 points and 16 rebounds. And Callahan ended with 12 points, eight of those coming in a crucial two-minute period in the second half.
“I thought we were a little lethargic,” head coach Jason Copeland said. “We had some stretches late where we really played like we’re capable of.”
Both teams began the game sluggishly, each only able to hit two shots in the first four and a half minutes. But the offense picked up, especially at the 6:08 mark when Callahan started a fast break that ended in layup by forward Marko Nikolic. The play sparked an 11-5 run for the Wildcats, leading up to the last two seconds in the half. Then, Greyhound guard Justin Redman-Trotter, who led Eastern New Mexico with 22 points in the game, hit a jump shot to cut the Wildcats’ lead to 34-31 at the end of the half.
Eastern New Mexico continued to cut into ACU’s lead at the beginning of the second half. With 8:23 remaining, the Greyhounds’ persistence paid off as they took the lead 52-50 after a layup by Redman-Trotter. The Wildcats fought back as Callahan drained back-to-back 3-point shots. Then, guard Corwin Ragland started a fast break that ended with an alley-oop pass to Callahan for a dunk. The slam energized the crowd and ignited a 6-0 run that gave ACU its biggest lead of the game, 68-56, with three minutes left in the game.
The Wildcats staved off any other comebacks with spectacular defense, highlighted by center Stephen Musa’s five blocked shots.
“We tried to establish momentum early, but Eastern was well prepared to play us,” Callahan said. “They got us out of what we’ve been doing, but we hung in it.”
ACU ended the game with a 52.7 field goal percentage, while Eastern New Mexico shot 34.8 percent from the field. ACU grabbed 43 rebounds in the game to Eastern New Mexico’s 33. The Wildcats also accumulated 48 of their 73 points inside the paint, and outscored the Greyhounds 16-6 in the fast break point category.
“I thought we played the game frustrated,” Copeland said. “But we found a way to get the ‘W’, so we’ll take it and move on.”
The Wildcats will look to extend their 11-game winning streak this Saturday against Midwestern State. Midwestern State is 8-8 overall and 0-2 in conference play.
“I know they’ll be good,” Copeland said. “They were the South Division champs last year.”