Head coach Joe Golding said on Saturday after ACU’s win over Houston Baptist that the program was continuing to take steps in the right direction. He has a lot of evidence to back him up.
The Wildcats are 5-4 in conference at the halfway point of Southland competition, which is more than their conference win total from last season and just one off their six total wins from the previous two years.
Now, ACU hits the road to take on two of the bottom four teams in the conference. It’s never easy to win on the road in this conference, but the Wildcats have to be optimistic about coming home with a possible pair of wins against Southeastern Louisiana (2-6, 4-17) and Lamar (2-8, 10-12).
Dubbed the biggest win of the season and perhaps the biggest win since ACU’s move to Div. I, the Wildcats handed the previously undefeated HBU Huskies their first conference loss of the year, 79-72, in their last game. The Wildcats led by as much as 25 in the game before the Huskies stormed back. In typical fashion, freshman phenom Jaylen Franklin hit a layup in the final seconds to make it a five-point game and secure the Wildcats’ win.
Franklin leads the Wildcats in scoring at 15.6 points per game which ranks sixth in the conference. He’s also just one of five players in the Southland averaging two steals per game for the year. He’s also improved dramatically from the three-point line. After missing his first seven attempts from deep all year, he went 5-7 from beyond the arc against Lamar and HBU in ACU’s last home stand.
Senior guard Parker Wentz, who knows a thing or two about three-point shooting, averages 9.7 points and 48 percent from deep which is best in the conference. He had 18 points and converted five of seven three-point attempts against Houston Baptist and was a huge contributor to the ACU win. Fellow freshman standout Jaren Lewis puts in 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds a night for the Wildcats.
Abilene Christian and Southeastern Louisiana will get their first look at each other this season on Saturday in Hammond, Louisiana. So far, the Lions have had the Wildcats number, winning the three games between the two since ACU rejoined the Southland Conference. Last season, ACU dropped both games against SELU, 55-54 in Hammond and 65-52 in Abilene. The Wildcats kept the score close at halftime in both games, but were outscored in the second half by a combined total of 66-49.
This year, the Lions sit at 2-6 in conference and have lost two of their last three games. Southeastern squeezed by McNeese State, 82-80, in their last matchup after trailing by as many as 12 in the second half. The Lions average just under 70 points per game as a team, but give up 77 a night to opposing teams. From beyond the arc, SELU sits at about the middle of the pack at 36 percent, which is almost identical to ACU’s 35 percent as a team from three.
The Lions and Wildcats currently are the worst two rebounding teams in the conference. ACU however is one of the top teams at keeping opponents off the glass, averaging 34 rebounds against per game, compared to SELU’s 36 rebounds against.
Senior guard Zay Jackson leads the Lions at 12.3 points per game with 4.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. Jackson averaged 17.2 points through the first five games of the Lions conference season, before scoring just 12 points over their last three games. Junior guard Joshua Filmore adds 9.2 points a game and had one of his better offensive showings in their last game against McNeese State. Filmore dropped 18 points and made four three-point shots in the win.
The Wildcats will then travel to Beaumont for a rematch with Lamar. ACU bounced the Cardinals in Moody, 80-71, in large part to 5-9 shooting as a team from beyond the arc in the second half. Franklin had one of his best games of the season against Lamar, tallying 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists, five steals on 8-11 shooting and 3-4 from deep.
ACU and Lamar feature some of the most talented players that this year’s freshmen class has to offer. For the Cardinals, Garth has been their leading scorer at 14.4 points per game. He’s reached double-digit scoring totals in all but three games this season. Chatman has averaged 8.6 points per game for the entire year, but he’s seen his scoring output increase as of late, dropping 10 against Stepehen F. Austin, 24 against ACU and 12 on Sam Houston in the last three games. Freshman forward Josh Nzeakor has averaged six points and five rebounds all year but has averaged 16 points and 8.5 rebounds a night during conference play and has moved into the starting rotation for Lamar head coach Tic Price.