The men’s basketball team accomplished something that the program had not done in nearly 30 years: have a 3-0 start in conference play. The Wildcats earned a 95-81 victory over the Northwest State Demons Tuesday night on the road in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The win puts the Wildcats at 9-7 overall and 3-0 in the conference. The Demons drop to 7-8 and 2-2 against Southland opponents.
The Wildcats were led by their trio of scoring guards. Seniors Harrison Hawkins and LaDarrien Williams, along with junior Parker Wentz, combined for 80 of the team’s total 95 points.
Hawkins continued his hot shooting streak by leading all scorers with 31 points on 11-20 shooting and an even 5-10 from three. Over his last four games, he has averaged 24.8 points per game and is shooting 56 percent from the field including 48 percent (15-31) from beyond the arc.
Wentz finished with 29 points, 21 of them coming in the first half. He helped fueled the Wildcats to a 46-37 halftime lead. LaDarrien Williams filled the stat sheet, as he had one of the best overall games recorded by a Wildcat. Williams put in 20 points, six assists, five rebounds and two steals, along with 9-15 shooting. ACU shot 57 percent from the field, went 16-27 from three and was 11-12 as a team from the free throw line.
ACU jumped out to an early lead after a jumper by Williams leading make it 16-11 Wildcats with 12 minutes left in the first half. The lead would swell to 28-17, and then 39-23 after a made three pointer by Wentz, who made five three pointers in the first half alone.
The Demons would go on a 14-5 run in the last five minutes of the fist half to cut the deficit to nine at the break. NSU shot 44 percent in the first half and finished at 47 percent for the game.
The second half would begin by a hard fought effort from Northwestern State to cut the lead. After four minutes into the second half, NSU made the game more manageable, down only 54-48. But the Wildcats were able to reestablish themselves and bumped the lead back into the double digits, where it stayed for much of the second half.
After a free throw from junior Austin Cooke, the lead moved up to 20, 73-53 ACU. Cooke finished with eight points and three rebounds after battling much of the game with foul trouble.
With 2:38 left in the game, NSU cut the score to single digits, 85-76, after a layup by junior guard Jalan West. West, the Southland Conference’s reigning player of the week, led the Demons with 30 points, 24 coming in the second half. But a jumper by Hawkins, along with clutch free throws from Cooke and sophomore Riley Payne, kept the Demons at bay, and secured the win for ACU.
The win has been dubbed the biggest win in head coach Joe Golding’s tinder as coach. The 3-0 conference record is the best start ACU basketball has had since the 1986-87 season, when they went 6-0 to start Lone Star Conference play.
The men will now prepare for the first nationally televised game from Moody Coliseum against Southland Conference powerhouse Stephen F. Austin. SFA went a perfect 18-0 in conference last year and even made it past the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Tipoff is set for 11 a.m. Saturday in Moody Coliseum.