ACU (2-4) struggled in the Vegas Four, dropping all three games to Wright State, 77-61, Weber State, 77-67, and UC Riverside, 76-65.
Turnovers proved to be an issue as ACU never won the turnover battle in any of the three games. Head coach Brette Tanner used a different five in all three matches with the Wright State starters being
- Damien Daniels, senior guard from Kansas City, Missouri
- Ja’Sean Jackson, sophomore guard from San Antonio
- Immanuel Allen, graduate guard from Phoenix
- Tobias Cameron, graduate guard from Gold Coast, Australia
- Airion Simmons, senior forward from Little Rock, Arkansas
Against Weber State, he used the same lineup but swapped Jackson for guard Hunter Jack Madden, junior from Sydney, Australia and against UC Riverside, the lineup remained the same apart from Simmons being swapped for forward Cameron Steele, junior from Excelsior, Minnesota.
“We’re still trying to find our identity a little bit,” Tanner said. “This is the first time in a long time where there’s a lot of new things, a lot of moving pieces, but that’s not an excuse by any means, we’ve got to get better and that’s my job. I got to figure out the right lineups to play at the right time. We’re playing a different schedule than in the past and that’s who we are as a program, we’re not going to play these gimme games anymore. We played three really good teams out here and came up short and we had a chance to win every game, we were within a couple of possessions. We’ve got to find out how we can get over that hump. In each game played this year we haven’t been able to finish.”
ACU struggled from the tip as Wright State forced four turnovers in the first four minutes and scored nine off of ten Wildcat turnovers to take a 42-31 lead at the break. Meanwhile, Tanner’s tenacious ACU defense faltered, scoring one point off three turnovers. The Wildcats offense shot 43% from the floor as WSU shot 55%.
The second half was not much different as WSU led the entirety of the half finishing with a 77-61 win. ACU cut the lead to 48-39 before an 8-0 WSU run in 46 seconds extended their lead to 16 with 10:14 to play, 64-48. Tanner’s defense finished the night with 18 points off of 18 turnovers, missing their mark of 20 each night. A bright spot for ACU was the breakout performance of sophomore guard Ali Abdou Dibba, who finished the night with 14 points, six rebounds and two assists.
The Weber State Wildcats came out as the victor over the ACU Wildcats on Tuesday night, 77-67. A back-and-forth first half saw the teams tied at 40. ACU’s offense rolled to a 58% shooting percentage from the floor and 67% from beyond the arc. WSU kept the pace with a perfect 10-10 shooting from the free throw line.
Free throws continued to be an issue for ACU in the second half as they shot 2-5 while WSU shot 13-15 from the line. The Wildcats offense started strong as they led by five with 11 minutes to play but they struggled to score down the stretch, only scoring nine in the final 11 minutes. In the next two and a half minutes with a five point ACU lead, three technical fouls were called against ACU to shift the momentum over to WSU, who then tied the game. Tanner’s defense once again failed to force 20 turnovers, ending with 18.
Leading the way for ACU was forward Cameron Steele with 16 points. Guards Tobias Cameron and Hunter Jack Madden backed Steele up with 13 apiece. Madden received his first spot in the starting lineup against WSU alongside Cameron, guard Damien Daniels, Immanuel Allen and forward Airion Simmons.
ACU’s final game of the Vegas Four tournament ended in a 76-65 loss against UC Riverside. Senior guard Tobias Cameron faced off against his twin Flynn Cameron of UC Riverside for the first time in his career.
UCR capitalized off of ACU’s inability to control the ball to take a 14-3 lead with 16:24 in the first half. The Highlanders scored seven points off of five ACU turnovers during the run and finished the half with 12 points off of nine turnovers. ACU then roared back to life with a 7-0 run in 2:36 to cut the lead to 17-12 with 11:59 remaining. Despite ACU’s resurgence, they never led in the first half with UCR leading 37-31 at the end of the half. Flynn won the first half battle against his brother with 14 points to Tobias’ two. Despite not breaking any team rules, Simmons was suspended by Coach Tanner who felt like he needed to prove a point to the senior.
“I would expect to see him back in uniform soon but I don’t know when that is,” Tanner said. “It wasn’t a one game suspension. I was really proud of him tonight. I thought he was a great leader on the bench. He could have sat there and pouted and he didn’t do that. That was one of the things that I was looking for.”
ACU started the second half strong to cut the UCR lead 42-41 with 15:53 to play. The tight start didn’t last as the Highlanders pulled away with an 11 point win over the Wildcats. UCR went 3-0 in the Vegas Four as they finished atop of the group.
ACU now heads back home without a win to show for their brief time in Vegas. Steele and senior guard Immanuel Allen both tallied 17 points a piece to lead the way on offense. Allen’s 17 points totaled a career high.
“I’m not going to walk out of here with my head down,” Tanner said. “I told the guys in the locker room after the game, ‘Keep your head up. This is what good teams do, they go through adversity. All great things come through adversity. Nobody that’s ever done anything great, just had it easy the whole way. You have to fight through. We have a decision to make, Are we going to use this to get better and grow or are we going to use this to go the other way and tank? We’ve got to make that choice.’”
Following the tournament, the Wildcats have a few days off before heading to Flagstaff, Arizona to take on the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks (2-3) on Sunday. Leading the way for NAU are junior guard Jalen Cone and sophomore guard Liam Lloyd who are both averaging double digit points per game this year. Cone was selected to the All-Big Sky team in the offseason while the Lumberjacks were predicted to finish eighth out of 10 in the Big Sky conference.
“It’s really hard to get out of that fog when you’re in it,” Tanner said. “You’ve got to play really well for a while to come out of it. We just took a step in the right direction today. Now it’s about, ‘What can we do on the road against a really good team in Northern Arizona?’”
So far this year, NAU has beaten Benedictine Mesa and the University of California Santa Barbara but fallen to Michigan State, Arizona State, Utah Valley, the University of Texas and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
“The bottom line is that I believe in this team,” Tanner said. “I believe the team’s going to figure it out. I’ve got a lot of work to do on my end, but this is why you do these events, is to come find out about yourself and this is how you get better. We’ve got to keep working hard.”
The Wildcats and Lumberjacks tip off at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Rolle Activity Center and will be broadcast live on ESPN+.