Head coach Joe Golding will be the first to say that there is no such thing as a moral win. But the way ACU battled Thursday night makes it hard to put its game against Houston Baptist in the loss column.
The Wildcats traveled to Sharp Gym in Houston to face the Huskies, who are 12-1 at home, and kept up with one of the best teams in the conference all game long before finally running out of time. Despite tying the game at 63 with 1:28 left to go, the Wildcats couldn’t get the road win, falling 73-71.
The loss drops ACU to 6-7 in league play and 11-15 overall. The Huskies improve to 10-4 and 16-11.
“I was proud of the way my guys played,” Golding said. “That was a really good college basketball game between two evenly matched teams. We’ve got to re-group and get back home and try to get one Sunday afternoon at Moody.”
After battling the flu as a team in their last game against Sam Houston, ACU bounced back stronger than ever to face a Huskies team who was nearly perfect at home and at one point was 8-0 in the Southland Conference. Freshman guard Jaylen Franklin and senior center Duran Porter each scored 15 points off the bench while combining for 13-23 shooting from the field.
Senior point guard Jalen Little finished in double digits for the fourth time in the last five games. His 13 points were timely buckets for ACU, especially sinking all three of his three-point attempts. Little added six assists and three steals in the game.
With 32 seconds to go, HBU led 69-64 after a pair of free throw makes from senior guard Anthony Odunis pushed the lead to five. Little hit two clutch three-point shots with 21 seconds and seven seconds remaining to make it 71-70 HBU. The Wildcats immediately fouled to stop the clock, hoping for misses from the Huskies. Odunis hit both to make it 73-70.
The Wildcats got the ball back and were sent to the free throw line with two seconds left. Little made the first, then intentionally missed the second hoping for an ACU offensive rebound, but the Wildcats couldn’t come up with it, ending their hopes of a hard-fought comeback win.
The Wildcats went into halftime down five, 31-26, before the Huskies pushed the lead to a game-high 11 at 42-31 after an 11-5 run with 15:29 to go in the second half. ACU, like they did several times throughout, responded with a 12-5 run of their own to make it 47-43 HBU at the halfway mark of the second half. A pair of free throw makes got the run started for ACU, followed by six points from Porter and finished off with a dunk by freshman forward Hayden Howell to cut the lead to four.
Both teams would exchange buckets, as the Wildcats kept the HBU lead between four and seven points. Little and senior guard Parker Wentz each hit shots from beyond the arc to make it 57-55 HBU with 3:55 to go.
Franklin, like he has so often this year, began to take over for the next few minutes. He scored eight straight points for the Wildcats, six coming off layups in the paint and two off a steal and a fast break dunk that tied the game with just over two minutes to play.
The Wildcats were able to score, but they weren’t fortunate enough to get Houston Baptist to miss from the line down the stretch. Odunis, who entered the game third in NCAA Div. I basketball in free throw attempts per game, hit all eight of his attempts in the final 49 seconds as the Huskies were able to hold off the Wildcats and split the season series.
Golding decided to change up the starting lineup in this one, with several players coming off an illness. Howell (six points, three rebounds) got his first start of the season. Freshman forward Jaren Lewis (six points, three rebounds and a steal), junior guard Jovan Crnic and sophomore guard Drake Green all got the start after primarily coming off the bench this season.
ACU bounced back from a rough first half shooting performance of 35 percent to 63 percent in the second half while scoring 45 points after halftime. The Wildcats committed just nine turnovers in the game, their lowest in the last seven games, and gave it up just four times in the second half. From deep, the Wildcats were 6-12 and 7-11 from the free throw line, compared to HBU’s 6-8 from three and 17-27 from the line.
Odunis led the Huskies with a game-high 21 points, nine rebounds and 11-14 free throw shooting. Freshman center Isaiah Robinson, tied for first in the conference in blocks per game, wrecked havoc on the Wildcats offense, finishing with six blocks, one off his career-high seven that he registered on Dec. 29 against Ecclesia University.