In a battle of two teams tied for seventh place, the Wildcats came away with a 74-69 win over Lamar after converting 9-of-10 free throws in the final 43 seconds.
“[Lamar] knew how important this game was, and I thought we got their best shot,” Head Coach Joe Golding said. “Credit to our guys, it was a back-and-forth game. They kind of took the lead early, we settled in a little bit, got the lead right before half, and the game was kind of back and forth in the second half.
ACU started sluggish, spotting Lamar as big as a seven-point lead just five minutes into the contest, but the Wildcats broke off the first of several scoring spurts to tie the game at 15 with 12:03 left in the first half.
However, over the next seven minutes the Cardinals controlled the pace and the game, building a 28-19 lead after two free throws from Colton Weisbrod. At that point, ACU came alive for good.
The Wildcats rattled off a 17-4 over the final 5:20 of the half to take its first lead of the game and a 36-32 advantage into the break. Ten of those 17 points came from sophomore center Jalone Friday, as he finished the first half with 12 points and would carry that momentum into the second half. Friday matched his first half output with 12 points after the break to finish with a game-high 24 points. He also recorded his second double-double of the season with 10 rebounds.
Lamar tied the game at 37 right out of the half, but ACU quickly responded with a 9-0, accented by a breakaway slam from junior Jaylen Franklin. The Wildcats would never again relinquish the lead.
“We were able to stretch the lead, but it’s never going to be pretty down in the end, especially playing a team like that, that’s going to fight to the end for 40 minutes,” Golding said, “but we were able to close it out and make some big plays.”
The Cardinals did bring the deficit within one at 70-69 after a bucket and the foul from Josh Nzeakor with eight seconds left. But it wasn’t for Lamar, as graduate transfer Tevin Foster and junior Jaren Lewis converted four-straight, game-clinching free throws to outlast the Cardinals. Foster led the team with nine assists and contributed 12 points, while Lewis also had 12 points to go with eight rebounds.
“The main thing is composure, just staying composed.” Foster said. “Just making the right plays, keeping the game simple, limit our turnovers and take good shots. I preached that in practice, and in the games we still repeat it to each other, so that’s the big thing.”
The win comes at a good time for the Wildcats, moving them into sixth place and giving them a small, one-game cushion over Lamar, who falls to eight place. Last night also broke a two-game home losing streak for ACU and could give momentum with four of its final eight games being played in Moody Coliseum.
Wildcats will next travel to Hunstville to take on Sam Houston State, a team they defeated 75-72 earlier this season and which is ranked fourth in the conference.