The Wildcats travel to east Texas where they’ll put their early 2-1 conference record on the line against last season’s Southland Conference tournament champion Stephen F. Austin. Tip off is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday and can be seen live on WatchESPN.
ACU is one of six teams in the Southland with a winning conference record and hold a 7-9 overall record for the year. After splitting their first two conference games on the road, ACU returned home and handed the Northwestern State Demons an 87-72 defeat.
Almost an exact calendar year earlier, the Wildcats hosted the Lumberjacks in Moody Coliseum in the first ever nationally televised game from Moody Coliseum. ACU came out strong in the first half and took a 37-33 lead into halftime after a three-point make by the Wildcats with two seconds left in the half pushed the lead to four. The Lumberjacks, as you would expect from the top team in the conference, came out on a mission after halftime. SFA tied the game at 40 early in the second half before ripping off a 22-10 run to move ahead by double digits.
The 82-64 loss was ACU’s first conference loss of last season, as they started Southland play at 3-0 before the SFA game.
The Wildcats are led offensively by a player who has to be considered not only a finalist for Southland freshman of the year, but one of the more explosive players in the conference. Freshman point guard Jaylen Franklin is averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game, along with 3.8 rebounds and nearly two steals per contest. At nearly 15 points per game, Franklin is the top scoring freshman in the conference.
Freshman forward Jaren Lewis also has stood out this season for ACU. In his fifth start for ACU this season against Northwestern State, Lewis turned in a career-high 13 rebounds while chipping in eight points, while guarding one of the elite scorers in the country. For the season, Lewis averages 9.7 points and six rebounds per game while shooting 51 percent from the field.
Senior guard Parker Wentz is second on the team at 9.8 points per game and has been lights out from three. Wentz has been stroking it from beyond the arc, knocking down 48 percent of his attempts to lead the conference. Wentz turned in 17 points against the Demons, marking the third time in four games he reached double figures. Senior center Duran Porter (9.3) and junior Jovan Crnic (8.6) round out ACU’s scoring threats.
Stephen F. Austin comes in at 10-5 with a perfect 3-0 conference start and 7-0 record at William R. Johnson Coliseum. The Lumberjacks have faced little resistance so far, making easy work of McNeese State (86-57), Southeastern Louisiana (89-69) and Central Arkansas (85-64). For the year, all of SFA’s losses have come at the hands of well established Div. I programs such as Baylor, Northern Iowa, Arizona State and more.
The Lumberjacks are led by arguably the best overall player in the conference in senior forward Thomas Walkup. The 6-foot-4 senior is the definition of a do-it-all-player. Walkup has averaged 15.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game for SFA while shooting an incredible 57 percent for a wing player. In conference play, the two-time tournament most valuable player has put up 16.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and six assists in three games, including a 32-point performance against Central Arkansas, in which he was 10-13 from the field.
The only weakness Walkup has that ACU should exploit is his three-point shooting. He averages a shade under 30 percent (5-17), but he has knocked down two of three attempts in conference play.
Senior forward Clide Geffrard is another threat for the Lumberjacks, averaging 12.3 points, 6.3 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from three off the bench. Second-team All-Southland Preseason selectee Ty Charles has been solid for SFA. The sophomore guard is averaging 9.2 points per game this year, while his shooting touch has gone down. As a freshman, Charles converted 48 percent, while this year, he’s making only 38 percent of his attempts.
Head coach Brad Underwood runs the helm for SFA and is considered one of the top coaches in NCAA basketball. Underwood began as a graduate assistant for Hardin-Simmons, right down the road from ACU. From 2006-2012, Underwood served as an assistant for Kansas State, before leaving for South Carolina. He took over the SFA program in 2014 and has led the Lumberjacks to a 65-13 overall record and a 38-1 conference record over the last two plus years, in addition to back-to-back conference championships.