The ACU men’s basketball team improved to 2-0 following the teams’ conference opening wins against Central Arkansas and Nicholls State over the past two weekends. The Wildcats began Southland Conference competition on Jan. 4 against the UCA Bears, in which the team won 87-70. This past weekend, ACU defended home court once again by besting the Nicholls State Colonels, 71-54.
“We’ve been improving in a lot of areas and it has shown early in the conference schedule,” head coach Joe Golding said. “Guys are making plays and more importantly we’re playing our style with confidence.”
The Wildcats currently own a 8-7 overall record as part of their 2-0 conference record that ranks third in the conference. In ACU’s first game of the new year, it shot over 53 percent from the field and 61 percent (11-18) from beyond the three point arc. Senior Harrison Hawkins and junior Austin Cooke led the winning squad with 22 points a piece, a season high for Cooke. Senior LaDarrien Williams added 16 points, seven rebounds and two steals off the bench. UCA posted a 47 percent shooting mark for the game as a team, but struggled from downtown, making just six of 16 attempts.
“It was nice to not have to rely on Parker’s (Wentz) game-winning goaltending call like last time we played these guys,” Golding said. “Getting our first conference win in our first attempt is big for this program and a huge step in what we’re trying to do here.”
The next weekend, the men’s team took on the Colonels in Abilene and excelled on the defensive end. The Wildcats forced NSU into making just 35 percent from all their shots from the field, a dismal 3-18 from three and allowed only two Colonels to finish in double digits. The 54 points is the second-lowest total point total the Wildcats have allowed all season.
Five Wildcats finished in double digits, as Hawkins put in 20 points on 7-14 shooting. Over his last three games, Hawkins has gone on an offensive tear, scoring 26 points again Grand Canyon, 22 points against Central Arkansas and then 20 points against Nicholls State. Junior guard Parker Wentz chipped in 16 points and went a perfect five for five from the charity strike. Williams recorded his first career double-double for ACU, putting up 10 points and grabbing a career high 12 rebounds. Junior big-man Duran Porter had his best game as a Wildcat so far, as he finished with 10 points on 4-6 shooting, eight rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes of action.
The Wildcats finished first place in the Upper Division championship of the Continental Las Vegas Classic over the holiday break. The men knocked off South Carolina State, 65-59 behind 16 points from Williams and double digit scoring from Hawkins (15), Cooke (14) and Wentz (12). The team then faced Arkansas Pine Bluff in the championship game and won 69-61 to capture first place in the tournament. Wentz (16) and Williams (15) combined for 31 points on a total of 11-17 from the field and 5-9 from three point range.
The men continued their conference schedule Tuesday in Natchitoches, Louisiana against Northwestern State. Go online to acuoptimist.com for the recap.