Free throws cost the Wildcats in the final minutes, as the team went just 1-4 in the late stages of regulation, after starting the game a perfect 17-17 from the line, in their 95-91 loss to McNeese State on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats relinquished their 71-61 lead with under four minutes to play, but were unable maintain their composure and allowed McNeese to force overtime and eventually take the victory, handing ACU another loss on the road and finalizing a winless 0-13 road record for the season.
“We played well Saturday and played with a lot of heart and effort,” head coach Joe Golding said. “We just could not finish the game the last three minutes.”
Both teams went into their locker rooms at halftime with the score tied up at 36 a piece. The Wildcats could not find a way to pull away from the Cowboys, as they shot 67 percent and buried six of eight three point shots. McNeese came out of the half and quickly established a solid lead for the majority of the second half. ACU fought back to grab a ten point lead with 3:36 left in the game. Sophomore guard Parker Wentz converted on a pair of free throws to push the lead to four with 1:17 left. Senior guard Ledrick Eackles would make one of his six three point field goals on the next McNeese possession to give ACU a one point lead with under a minute to play.
With 40 seconds left, junior guard Rafael Farley was fouled and sent to the free throw line, where he had a costly miss that made the score 80-78. The Cowboys would go down and miss on a jumper, only to be fouled on a battle for a lose ball, and earn a trip to the line with 16 seconds left. McNeese converted on both to tie the score at 80-80. The Wildcats would give the ball to Wentz for the final shot, but was blocked at the buzzer to confirm overtime.
Despite missing seven free throws in overtime alone, McNeese would find enough steam and momentum to earn the win at home by outlasting the Wildcats. The nail in the coffin came from a blocked ACU shot that led to a McNeese fast break, in which they drew the final foul on Wentz and converted the basket to push their lead to eight.
“McNeese has a good program and they’re hard to beat at home,” Golding said. “We had a chance to steal one on the road, and we just couldn’t close out.”
The loss drops ACU to 11-19 and a 2-11 conference record. Their last overtime game of this season came January against Southeastern Louisiana, when the Wildcats fell in double overtime, 85-77, behind a combined 59 points from junior guards Harrison Hawkins and LaDarrien Williams.
The Wildcats were dominated on the glass, loosing the battle 39-24, and giving up 19 offensive rebounds that help lead to 21 second chance points for the Cowboys. Overall, ACU shot well, going 30-54 (55.6%) from the field, 11-22 from beyond the arc and a remarkable 20-23 from the charity strike.
Junior guard Julian Edmonson and Wentz help lead the way with 24 points each. Combining to go 7-13 from three point attempts and a perfect 11-11 from free throws. Farley and junior forward Jacob Lancaster finished with 11 and ten points, respectively. For McNeese, Eackles, one of the premier shooters in the Southland, registered a career high 35 points, on the strength of six three point field goals and eleven made free throws. Junior guard Kevin Hardy and junior forward Craig McFerrin each had double doubles- 17 points, 11 assists for Hardy and 18 points, 10 rebounds for McFerrin.
The Wildcats will now look to end their season on a positive note, as they play their season finale at 3 p.m. Saturday in Moody Coliseum against the University of Incarnate Word (20-6, 8-5).
“We look forward to the game,” Golding said. “We played well at there place for about 30 minutes last time, but now we have to be able to play a full game. We have been in search of that the last six weeks and we have one more shot to do it.”