The men’s basketball team won its first Div. I non-conference game in 30 years Thursday night against Sacramento State, 72-61. Senior guard LaDarrien Williams led all scorers with a season-high 24 points behind the strength of 3-5 shooting from three and 9-10 from the free throw line.
“The coaches have been on me lately about getting to the free throw line and being more aggressive,” Williams said. “I just went out there and played hard and took advantage of the opportunities I had.”
The Sacramento State Hornets were held to 32 percent shooting, after averaging over 52 percent for the year so far. The Wildcats on the other hand had one of their best shooting games, going for 51 percent on the night and 19-24 as a team from the free throw line.
“That’s a really good basketball team that we played and we did a really, really good job defensively,” head coach Joe Golding said. “They shoot the ball well and we were able to hold them in the low thirties, so that’s just a great defensive effort by our guys.”
The Wildcats, who have struggled rebounding the ball, won the battle on the glass 34-33 against a much bigger Sacramento State.
“Rebounding is something that I’ve said is going to be a challenge for us this year, it’s not like you can grow taller throughout a season,” Golding said. “At the beginning of the game we were getting outrebounded by eight or nine, and then we came back and won. So the effort has to be there, and it was tonight.”
Junior guard Parker Wentz finished with 15 points and made two of his three shots beyond the arc down the stretch, as the Hornets threatened late in the game. Junior forward Austin Cooke registered his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats opened up the game with two free throw makes by Williams to take the lead, and never looked back. ACU never trailed in the game and held Sacramento State in check for much of it. With two minutes left in the first half, ACU led 31-17. The Wildcats took a 33-20 lead into halftime against a notoriously bad first half offensively club.
The question was if ACU could keep the lingering Hornets at bay in the second half. The Wildcats opened up with three point makes by Wentz and Williams to push to the lead to 17 after a minute into the second half. The margin stayed in the double digits for the majority of the second half, until around four minutes to play, when Sacramento State cut it to single digits at 56-47. Defensive stops for ACU and turnovers by Sacramento State finalized the outcome in Moody, as ACU walked away with the victory.
“We’ve been working hard and I keep telling people we’re better than last year but sometimes you have to go out there and prove it and that’s what happened tonight,” Golding said.
The win gives the Wildcats its first non-conference Div. I win since Dec. 3, 1984, when ACU defeated Pepperdine. It also gives ACU a victory over a team who had previously beaten the University of California Riverside, who the Wildcats lost to 76-56 in the previous game.
ACU will now test its 3-3 record against the University of Houston, as the team will travel to south Texas to play Saturday night at 7 p.m. The game will be on ESPN3 through the WatchESPN app.