The past two games for the Wildcats have been everything but boring.
Since the start of conference play, the men’s team has split its opening two games with each final score decided by a single point. Now, sitting at 1-1 and 6-9 overall, the Wildcats welcome Northwestern State (3-10, 0-3) in ACU’s first home conference match up of the season on Tuesday night.
In its first game of 2016, ACU held onto the lead against the University of Central Arkansas, 62-61, despite owning a double-digit lead midway through the second half. The Bears (2-11, 1-2) stormed back to outscore the Wildcats 33-26 in the second half, but two big free throw makes by senior Duran Porter gave ACU just enough cushion to get by. UCA missed a game-winning three point attempt at the buzzer to end it in Conway, Arkansas.
Freshman Jaren Lewis led ACU in scoring with 14 points and seven rebounds. Freshman point guard Jaylen Franklin recorded 13 points on 19 shot attempts, and Porter put in 10 points and 10 boards for the double-double.
After owning a comfortable lead for most of the game against UCA, it was the Wildcats who would have to play catchup their next game against Nicholls State. ACU trailed by nine at halftime, 29-20, to a Colonels (5-11, 1-1) team that seemed like a road win on paper. With 13 minutes left to play in the game, Nicholls State stretched the lead to 17 points after a three point make and what appeared to be a sure loss for ACU.
Senior Parker Wentz would get hot from beyond the arc, sinking 5-6 from downtown and scoring all 17 points in the second half to get ACU back in the game. With under three minutes left in the game, a layup by Lewis gave ACU a one point lead at 62-61. The Colonels would come back and score to give them the lead. Both teams would go cold from the field in the final two minutes, as the Wildcats final possessions ended in two missed threes, a missed jumper and a turnover.
Northwestern State makes the trip to Abilene in a year that has gone anything but according to plan. After going 13-5 in conference last season and losing to the would-be champion Stephen F. Austin in the tournament semifinals round, the Demons looked to prove that this was their year. Those aspirations were quickly dashed after NSU lost its star senior point guard Jalen West in the final minute of the first game of the season. Diving for the ball in the final seconds of a close game against Ole Miss, West suffered a torn ACL in his left knee that would sideline one of the top players in the Southland for the season. West averaged 20 points and led the nation in assists at 7.7 per game in his junior year.
The Demons have opened up conference play with three straight losses to Houston Baptist, Sam Houston and Incarnate Word. NSU has struggled to limit offenses, giving up a conference worst 87 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot north of 48 percent from the field.
The Wildcats on the other hand are currently the top defensive team in the Southland, holding offenses to 65 points per game on 44 percent shooing. ACU’s success has come to limiting opponents. The Wildcats have given up 602 shot attempts on the year, which is 51 attempts less than the second-leading defense in the conference of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Offensively, ACU is led by Franklin who averages just over 14 points per game. Franklin also has been very efficient, shooting over 50 percent from the field. Lewis, Porter and junior forward Jovan Crnic each average nine points per game, while Wentz continues his red-hot three-point shooting at 49 percent in addition to averaging 9.3 points per contest.
Junior guard and pre-season first-team all-conference selection Zeek Woodley leads the Demons at 22.7 points per game as one of the conference’s most deadly offensive threats. Woodley can attack defenses in a variety of ways. He is shooting 55 percent from the field, 43 percent from beyond the arc and has converted 66-75 free throw attempts on the year (88 percent). In the second game of the season, and first game without West, Woodley scored a career-best 39 points while going 14-19 from the field and 10-10 from the charity stripe.
Tip off is set for 7 p.m.