The Wildcats started the season 1-0 after Friday night’s blowout win over Hillsdale Freewill Baptist, 101-61 in Moody Coliseum.
Junior guard Parker Wentz led all scorers with 23 points and added five rebounds and five assists.
ACU shot 57 percent from the field and was 48 percent from beyond the three point line (12-25). Senior guard Harrison Hawkins added 20 points, including four three-point makes, and LaDarrien Williams notched 16 points on 7-10 shooting.
“Like all games, I thought there were some good and some bad,” said Joe Golding, head coach. “I have been really impressed with how unselfish this team has played this early in the year. We do, however, need to get better at guarding without fouling and rebounding the basketball.”
The Wildcats started slow against the Saints, but were able to take the lead and never look back. Early full-court defensive pressure rattled Hillsdale’s cage, forcing the Saints into 12 turnovers in the first half, eight of them coming off ACU steals. At halftime, the Wildcats led 47-26 after holding Hillsdale to just 26 percent shooting.
In the second half, ACU would continue to turn defensive turnovers into offensive scores, as the Wildcats bumped the lead up to 69-38 with 13 minutes left in the game. Wentz came out of halftime firing, sinking two three-point baskets and then a midrange jumper for eight points in the first two minutes and 15 seconds of the second half.
Defensive hustle and three-point shooting continued to push the ACU lead, as the win was assured with around eight minutes left to play when ACU led 78-48. Sophomore guard Michael Grant recorded a steal toward the end of the game and ended the competition with a dunk.
It was the second year in a row ACU played Hillsdale Baptist in its home opener, and the outcome was the same. Last year, ACU routed the Saints 93-53, in which Hawkins, Williams and Wentz led the team to the victory.
Earlier this week, Golding said the team would play 10 men deep on a regular basis, forcing new faces to play significant minutes. Freshman backup point guard K.J. Maura, freshman Isiah Tripp and junior transfer Duran Porter combined for 40 minutes in their first game as Wildcats. Maura had 10 points and four assists, Tripp had seven with a three point make and Porter added solid defense in the paint. Freshman forward Christian Albright put in seven points, three rebounds and was aggressive on both ends of the floor during his 12 minutes of action.
“I thought the new guys played well,” Golding said. “We were able to get them all in the game so they could get game experience. They continue to get better every time out, but I’m pleased with where they are.”
The Wildcats won the battle of the glass, 39-30, committed eight less turnovers and put up 24 more shots than Hillsdale Baptist. However, the team committed 11 more fouls and gave up 39 free throws.
ACU will now prepare for the trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the team will face an opponent who played in the NCAA tournament last year. The game will tip off at 7 p.m Wednesday.