Twenty-seven forced turnovers, five in double digit scoring and 19 assists led to the 100th career win for graduate guard Tobias Cameron and senior guard Damien Daniels for the Wildcats, 93-46, over North American on Wednesday night.
Cameron and Daniels are now the winningest players in the Division I era for ACU and 100-38 for their decorated careers. Both chose to come back this year due to the NCAA granting players an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19.
The duo has won two Southland Conference tournament championships, the first ever NCAA tournament appearance in 2019 and another appearance in 2021 with a first round win over the University of Texas, 53-52, and most recently a Western Athletic Conference tournament championship appearance last season. Head coach Brette Tanner has coached the highly successful players as an assistant and as their head coach.
“That’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” Tanner said. “Anybody who can get 100 wins in their career is pretty amazing. That’s a true testament to those guys. I can’t imagine winning that many games as a player. They’ve been a staple for this program. They put rings on people’s fingers around here. I hope they have a whole lot more in the tank with them, but I can’t wait to celebrate their 100 wins.”
ACU continued their run of hot shooting with five in double digits against on Wednesday after having six on Sunday. Leading the way was graduate guard Immanuel Allen with 17, 10 of which coming from the free throw line. Sophomore guard Ja’Sean Jackson finished with 11 while senior forward Airion Simmons and graduate guard Tobias Cameron both finished with 10. However, the breakout performance came from redshirt freshman forward Leonardo Bettiol with 11 points in nine minutes, a career high.
“I was sitting here thinking, going through our preseason stuff, I might start him,” Tanner said. “Then we forget sometimes because he’s still young as a freshman and so the nerves still get to him. The first time he touched the ball [tonight], he was still kind of nervous. And then after that, I think he settled in a little bit because he’s a guy we could really use.”
At the end of the first half, ACU led 41-19 over the Stallions. However, NAU started strong with a point on an ACU technical and a three to take a quick 4-0 lead before ACU replied with a 19-4 run. Tanner’s team kept cutting away at NAU’s early lead with their first lead coming 9-8 off a layup from senior forward Airion Simmons off a steal from fellow senior forward Yuot Gai. To close out the first half, Simmons hit a three to give ACU a 22 point lead heading into the locker room.
“Four games in eight days in two weeks and to come back, I wasn’t sure how we would play,” Tanner said. “This is a [North American] team we played tonight that took a Division I team down to the wire a week ago. I was really nervous about that and I thought our guys came out and played with some energy. The crazy thing is, our last two games, we played with pride, the most energy we’ve played with all year, and that’s after three straight games in three days. I think that tells you something about this team, they’re resilient. That’s ACU basketball. We just hadn’t played real well yet. And I think the last two games we played extremely well.”
ACU muscled their way to the foul line shooting 14-20 in the second half after going 6-6 in the first half. Allen led his team going 10-11, Bettiol 3-3, junior guard Hunter Jack Madden 4-4 and Cameron 3-4. On the year, ACU is shooting 68% from the free throw line but were close to 77% on Wednesday night.
“We haven’t been there,” Tanner said. “That’s encouraging to see because I know we’re a good free throw shooting team, I think it’s been a mental thing. Hopefully this is a sign that we’re coming out of that funk. But the fact that we got to the line that many times means that we were being aggressive, we were getting to the rim.”
In addition to the free throw shooting, ACU dished out 19 assists against North American after having 18 assists against Northern Arizona on Sunday. ACU once again scored more than 90 points for the second game in a row and the third time this year. As a team, ACU shot 45.6% from the field and 37.9% from beyond the arc. Tanner’s offense sputtered in Vegas averaging 64.3 points per game but have turned it around as of late.
“I wanted to make sure that we won the first four minutes,” Tanner said, “and then we ended up winning it barely. I thought after that first media, we took off and we turned them over 27 times. We haven’t been able to do that all year. [Turning people over] That’s what we do, right? We turn people over every single game. And so we’ve got to continue to do that.”
Now the Wildcats turn their attention to the Arlington Baptist Patriots, a Division II program out of the National Christian College Athletic Association, at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Moody. The Patriots are 0-4 on the year and have lost to Lubbock Christian University, Angelo State, St. Thomas and Southwestern Christian. In their history, ACU is 6-0, most recently beating the Patriots 90-39 on Nov. 5, 2019.
“We’ve got to keep playing together, man,” Tanner said. “Assisted baskets and then get out there defensively and do what we do. Some nights this team could turn 20 or more turnovers. Some nights it won’t, but we just have to continue to work on it.”
The Wildcats and Patriots tip off at 2 p.m. on Saturday in Moody and will be broadcast live on ESPN+.