For the first time since Feb. 29, 2020, ACU won a game in Moody Coliseum following renovations, 65-56, over the Jackson State Tigers.
Head coach Brette Tanner’s second year at the helm started strong as his team led by 20 at the break. The second half was a much different story as JSU cut the ACU lead to four before pulling away. Tanner’s and his team’s tenacious defense scored 17 points off of 21 turnovers. Tanner set a goal of 500 students to show up and he would feed the students at the next home game. Tonight, the student section far exceeded his goal.
“I just told the guys in the locker room, I’m going to be hugging a lot of people on campus tomorrow,” Tanner said. “I think that crowd was worth ten points and we won by nine. And so to me, that student section tonight won the game. We don’t win that game tonight without them. I mean that wholeheartedly.”
Heading into the night, ACU forward Joe Pleasant, senior from Overland Park, Kansas, would be out with a head and back injury for the unforeseeable future. However, the Wildcats were unsure if forward Airion Simmons, senior from Little Rock, Arkansas, would be ready to go due to concussion protocol. Hours before the tip, Simmons received good news as he was cleared to play and placed in the starting five for the Wildcats.
“I didn’t think Airion was going to play 10 minutes tonight and he logged 25,” Tanner said. “So that just tells you who he is, a street dog, man. That dude will fight through anything. He’s going to be hurting tomorrow. I will physically take him and put him in that ice bath tomorrow, he’s going to need it.”
Starting for the Wildcats were –
- Guard Damien Daniels, senior from Kansas City, Missouri
- Guard Tobias Cameron, senior from Gold Coast, Australia
- Guard Immanuel Allen, senior from Phoenix
- Forward Airion Simmons, senior from Little Rock, Arkansas
- Forward Cameron Steele, junior from Excelsior, Minnesota
ACU closed their first half in Moody on a 19-4 run to lead 45-25 over the Tigers. Tanner’s team shot nearly 56 percent from the field and scored 12 off of ten turnovers. Collectively, the Wildcats shot 6-11 from the free throw line to the Tigers’ 7-8 shooting. Cameron led all Wildcats with ten points and four rebounds. Simmons backed him up on the scoresheet with nine points, three rebounds and two assists. Tanner said his new guys had a lot of nerves heading into tonight but are relieved with the win.
“ACU basketball is not going to be pretty,” Tanner said. “It’s going be a street fight every single night. I said before the game that tonight was going to be a street fight. This game has been on my mind since March. I just wanted them to make sure they had a victory on that first night in Moody and so I’m glad they did it.”
With the losses of guards Reggie Miller, Coryon Mason and Mahki Morris, ACU’s offense sputtered, shooting 0-14 from the field to start the half. The Wildcats’ first four points of the half came from free throws. Down the stretch, JSU cut ACU’s lead to four, 56-52, before the Wildcats pulled away on a 9 to 4 run to win 65-56. In total, ACU shot 7-28 in the second half following a 20 point halftime lead.
“Coach Williams was an NBA all star for a reason,” Tanner said. “He’s brought all of that. He’s recruiting at a different level for Jackson State. I think we were the aggressor and so that’s why we were able to pull that lead. If we weren’t the aggressor early, it would have been a very different ballgame tonight.”
Leading the way for ACU were Cameron and Simmons in double digits with 18 and 13. Cameron matched a career-high 18 points with Simmons playing 25 minutes despite his injury. Cameron finished the night with 18 points, six rebounds and two assists while Simmons finished with 13 points, five rebounds and two assists.
“I am a little bit of a vet, but I’ve been in those situations playing big minutes,” Cameron said. “Just the confidence, the staff and my players help me. I just kept trying to push through.”
Following the opener in Moody, the Wildcats now head to College Station for a Power Five rematch against the Texas A&M Aggies of the Southeastern Conference. Last year, the Aggies narrowly defeated the Wildcats 81-80 in double overtime in Aggieland. Tanner’s team shot 6-13 from the free throw line to the Aggies’ 24-33 shooting. Coach Tanner said Aggies’ head coach Buzz Williams immediately called him after the game asking for a rematch.
“I’m super proud we won,” Tanner said. “But the way we played tonight, there’s no way we will win because a team at A&M’s level will run away. These next couple of days we have to recalibrate and get back to who we are.”
The Wildcats and Aggies tip off at 7 p.m. on Friday at Reed Arena in College Station and will be broadcast live on SEC Network+.