The Wildcats got contributions from all over their roster to earn a 91-80 win over Southeastern Louisiana University on a rare Sunday afternoon game. The win pushes ACU back to even in conference at 7-7 and 12-15 on the year.
“This was a big win for us, it keeps us undefeated at Moody during conference play and gets us to 7-7 which is where we want to be,” head coach Joe Golding said. “This is a tough stretch for us right now, we travel to Corpus Christi tomorrow, but thankfully we got our last three games at home.”
Freshman guard Jaylen Franklin dropped in 15 points primarily from the free throw line, sinking 11-14 attempts, as he was one of five Wildcats to finish in double-digit points. Senior forward Austin Cooke had one of his best games of the season, scoring 14 points and grabbing four rebounds in 13 minutes. It’s his largest scoring output since he had 17 against Colorado State on Nov. 24. Senior point guard Jalen Little added 12 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in an overall solid game for ACU.
The game started out fast and furious, as both teams were able to score at will. Freshman forward Hayden Howell, getting his second straight start, scored the opening seven points for the Wildcats with a three-point play and stuffing the ball home with a dunk off an offensive rebound.
“We started a lineup that we haven’t started all year, going with Hayden Howell and Duran Porter, and I thought it led to us getting some really easy baskets right at the rim,” Golding said. “Once we established that, it allowed us to open up some shots on the outside and today we shot pretty well.”
The Lions matched the Wildcats shot-for-shot, as ACU grabbed a 20-19 lead at the halfway point of the first half. The Wildcats gave up inside points and trips to the free throw line often, allowing the Lions to stay within striking distance.
The Wildcats ripped off a 13-0 run thanks to three-straight three-point makes to make it 33-19. Cooke made back-to-back shots from deep, then Little matched that with a three of his own. Senior center Duran Porter scored four of his 10 points during that run with a post score and a layup in transition. ACU would take a 44-33 lead into halftime after Franklin hit both free throw attempts and senior guard Zay Jackson scored on a layup with the clock at zeros.
The Lions would come out of the break with a zone defense that proved difficult for the Wildcats to solve. SELU cut the lead to six at 46-40 after two plus minutes of action in the second half. Little drained a three to push it to nine and give the Wildcats a little bit more breathing room. As a team, ACU made 8-19 shots from deep, while the Lions went 5-16.
Cooke, who has come off the bench primarily this year, was aggressive in the second half. Over a four-minute stretch, Cooke went 8-8 from the charity stripe while forcing the Lions into foul trouble early in the second half. The Wildcats, who average 70 percent from the free throw line, went 29-34 for over 85 percent against the Lions and was a big part of ACU being able to keep its double-digit lead in the second half.
With under five minutes to go, ACU held a seven-point lead at 73-66. The Wildcats would then use the shot clock perfectly, scoring at the buzzer in their next three possessions. Little got by his defender for a one-on-one layup. Sophomore Isaiah Tripp hit a layup and then a three-pointer on the next two possessions to push ACU’s lead to 80-69. The Wildcats would hit free throws over the last two and a half minutes to grab the win and even the season series, after SELU beat ACU 81-60 on Feb. 6.
Freshman forward Jaren Lewis finished with 10 points and eight rebounds. Senior guard Parker Wentz added eight points on 2-7 three-point shooting in his 115th career game for ACU, tying the program record.
For the Lions, they had five players as well finish with 10 or more points and shot over 50 percent for the game. Jackson and redshirt-freshman guard Dimi Cook led SELU with 16 points each. Jackson grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists. Marlain Veal, one of several standout freshmen in the Southland Conference, added 15 points on 6-8 shooting.