After back-to-back double-digit losses last weekend, the Wildcats returned to Moody in need of rest and offensive rejuvenation. They got both. ACU men’s basketball moved back to even in conference play after taking care of the visiting Lamar Cardinals, 80-71, Saturday night.
The Wildcats move to 4-4 in conference and 9-12 overall, while the Cardinals fell in their fourth-straight and sit at 2-7 and 10-11 on the year.
In a game that featured several of the top freshmen in the conference, one stood out above the rest. Point guard Jaylen Franklin scored a team-high 27 points on a remarkable 8-11 shooting from the field. In addition, he put in eight rebounds, six assists and five steals in a complete game of excellence that the Wildcats haven’t seen in some time.
Franklin also went 3-4 from beyond the arc after struggling from deep so far this season. The three makes are his only on the year, as he was previously 0-7. Already considered to be a favorite for the Southland Conference Freshman of the Year Award, if Franklin can add a three-point shot to his offensive arsenal, along with his ability to get to the rim at will and playmaking capability, he could run the conference for the next three years.
Franklin has also excelled at home, averaging 18.8 points per game and 58 percent shooting from the field.
The Wildcats lead was slimmed to 12 after a pair of free throw makes by Lamar with six and a half minutes left to go. After a fastbreak layup made it 71-61 ACU, Franklin hit a three-pointer to push the lead to 74-61 with 2:25 left in the game. The Cardinals cut it to single digits, 77-70, thanks to free throws and a jumper, but the Wildcats would hit their free throws down the stretch to sink the Cardinals hopes of a comeback.
Bench play came up big for Golding in this one. Freshman forward Jaren Lewis added 12 points and six rebounds, while freshman forward Hayden Farquhar put in eight points, five rebounds and 2-5 three-point shooting. Junior guard Jovan Crnic contributed in all aspects of the game, finishing with seven points, a team and season-high seven assists, five rebounds and a trey for the Serbian native.
The Wildcats won by single-digits, but the game could have easily gone one way or the other. Lamar found their way into the double-bonus after five minutes played in the second half, and continued to get to the free throw line. At one point, the Cardinals had attempted 20 free throws in the second half, compared to ACU’s six trips. Lamar was unable to put together any string of makes from the line, finishing the second half 16-26 and 21-34 for the game.
“Credit to them, they started getting the ball inside and forcing us to foul them, but we’ve got to do a better job on guarding without fouling,” head coach Joe Golding said. “We were able to get to the line ourselves, but we missed a lot of key opportunities to break this one open.”
Foul trouble plagued the Wildcats as a result, sending much of Golding’s frontcourt to the bench. Senior starting center Duran Porter picked up three fouls in the second half, eventually fouling out. Farquhar would head to the bench as well, picking up his final foul in the final minutes. Freshman forward Hayden Howell was whistled for three fouls in just four minutes of action.
ACU held control of the game for most of the afternoon, but offensive runs kept the Cardinals within striking distance. The Wildcats held an early 21-7 lead before Lamar went on a 7-0 run to get back in it. Franklin scored the last five points for ACU in the first half, making it a ten point advantage for the Wildcats at halftime, 39-29.
Back-to-back threes by Franklin and Farquhar made it 45-34 in the opening minutes of the second half. After pushing the score to 60-41 after an inside score from senior forward Austin Cooke, the Cardinals used a 10-2 outburst to stay in it, 62-51, with nine minutes to go.
Lamar was led by the freshmen duo of Dorian Chatman (24 points, 8-11 FG) and Nick Garth (19 points, 9-9 FT). Junior guard Marcus Owens was the only other Cardinal to finish in double-digits, ending the game with 16 points and 2-4 three-point shooting.