Despite the inclement winter weather, the Wildcats (15-7, 6-5) defeated the Chicago State Cougars (6-16, 2-7) 77-73 on Wednesday night at the Teague Special Events Center.
The Wildcats have now won their fourth straight Western Athletic Conference matchup and improve to above .500 in WAC play. Head coach Brette Tanner and the Wildcats scored 33 points off of 22 turnovers and a 14 point halftime lead to seal the win. For the fourth straight game, the Wildcats had a double digit lead in the first half but their opponents rallied back in the second half.
“We make it interesting in every game but at least we’re coming out on the right side of these,” Tanner said. “We’re finding ways to win and we’re winning in a different way every night.”
To start, the Wildcats quickly got out to a 7-0 run and continued their momentum to secure a 42-28 halftime lead. The Wildcats defense scored 27 points off of 17 turnovers in the first half. Tanner’s squad also scored 26 points in the paint and shot 53 percent from the field in the first half. Senior guard Damien Daniels led the team with nine at half.
“Me and Damien had a long talk a couple weeks ago about what we needed him to do and he has done everything I’ve asked of him to do since that point,” Tanner said. “I’m super proud of him and I’ve got to find more minutes for him. I’m really proud of where he’s at and where he’s been and I hope he keeps going on this trajectory.”
Daniels and the Wildcats continued their momentum to maintain a 73-61 lead with 3:06 to play. However, the Cougars roared back and cut the lead to two after a 10-0 run with 40 seconds to play.
The Cougars comeback was too little too late as the Wildcats secured the win 77-73. Cougars junior guard Brandon Betson, senior guard Coreyoun Rushin, and freshman guard Bryce Johnson combined for 56 of the Cougars 73.
Senior guard Coryon Mason led the Wildcats with 18 points, four steals, and four rebounds. Redshirt junior guard Immanuel Allen went 6-6 from the charity stripe as the Wildcats as a team shot 20-24 from the free throw line. ACU also had a strong paint presence with 46 of the 77 points coming from inside the paint.
“Our best offense is our defense and we’ve got to stay locked into that,” Tanner said. “I think the guys believe that and understand that but I think it comes from playing not to lose. We’ve got to turn that page and understand that we’re on another run, so we’re playing to win.
Along with their success on the court, Tanner and his coaching staff auctioned off their customized ACU Coaches vs Cancer sneakers on Twitter to raise money for charity. The staff wore the shoes as a part of the Suits and Sneakers week that was run by Coaches and Cancer last weekend. On Twitter, Tanner said the highest bidder donates to a cancer charity of their choice and he would match it up to 1,000 dollars. The auction ended on Tuesday night at 5 p.m. and the staff raised over 8,000 dollars for cancer charities.
“I’m so proud of this community and the ACU family for stepping up on that,” Tanner said. “To raise that much money on five pairs of shoes in one day is amazing. We’re always going to try to do whatever we can, that’s what we’re called to do is to bless people and I’m glad we got to be a part of that.”
Now, the Wildcats face the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley Vaqueros (6-15, 1-8) for the second time this season. Eleven days ago, the Wildcats won a thriller in Edinburg 87-85. The Vaqueros had a 99 percent chance to win with under two minutes to play with an 81-69 lead. However, the Wildcats rallied back with junior forward Airion Simmons hitting a game winning three with nine seconds to play.
“A miracle in The Valley,” Tanner said. “They know they let one get away and we know that we stole one. We’ve had some tight games but that’s because of the way we play. We’re going to have to do a heck of a job to win a dogfight.”
After four straight WAC wins, the Wildcats look to extend the streak to five against the Vaqueros at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Teague, with the game streaming live on ESPN+.