The Wildcats made easy work out of NAIA member University of the Southwest Mustangs in their season opener, 94-63. ACU struggled in the first half to get things going, but used two big runs in the second half to pull away and start off their season with a win.
“I thought we learned throughout the 40 minutes, so it’s always good to learn and to fix things and still get the win,” head coach Joe Golding said. “We got off to a slow start in the first half, we didn’t guard the way we needed to, we didn’t have ball movement that we wanted, but we were able to fix those things at halftime for the most part.”
Several new faces for the Wildcats played well in this one. Freshman Jaren Lewis led all scorers with 18 points and added nine rebounds, four assists and was active on defense with three steals. As a team, ACU collected 14 steals and converted 35 points off Mustang turnovers.
Junior transfer Jovan Crnic was also aggressive in his debut for the Wildcats. He tallied 15 points on 5-10 shooting with a team-high five assists. Crnic showed the improved athleticism for ACU, as many of his points came off of attacking the rim and finishing or getting to the free throw line.
“These new guys are going to be fun to watch for the next few years,” Golding said. “We’re more athletic with them, we’re bigger and we can get to the basket and finish. It gives us a huge weapon every night to have them on the court.”
The Wildcats led by just four points at halftime, 42-38, while giving up 46 percent field goal shooting in the first half. ACU would come out on a 12-4 run to widen the gap, after several Mustang turnovers led to ACU points, including a fast break dunk my Lewis to get to crowd in Moody active.
The Wildcats would then put together a 19-8 run to push the lead to 70-54 with 8:30 left in the game. Crnic hit a corner three, which was later followed up by two back-to-back three point makes by senior Parker Wentz to force the Mustangs timeout and put the game out of reach.
“I was excited to be able to play, being my senior year, I want to make the most of every game and do my part in making us successful,” Wentz said. “The ball went in tonight so I kept shooting.”
Wentz, ACU’s all-time leader in three-point make percentage, went 4-6 from downtown in his 14 point performance. Freshman Jaylen Franklin had an impressive opening game for ACU, scoring 15 points on 7-11 shooting, with four rebounds and five assists in 23 minutes of action off the bench. Senior Austin Cooke contributed eight points, six coming from the foul line, and a game-high 13 rebounds with 11 boards coming in the first half.
As a team, the Wildcats shot over 50 percent for the game while holding the Mustangs to 40 percent. The real difference turned out to be the turnovers and points in the paint, which ACU led in both categories (12-25, 60-30).
The Wildcats will take on Howard Payne Tuesday night at home before hitting the road to Oregon.