ACU (9-6, 1-1) earned its first Western Athletic Conference win just before the start of the new year in a 69-63 win against the Tarleton Texans (7-7, 1-1).
The Saturday afternoon matchup was the second game for both teams during the opening weekend of WAC play. The Wildcats had just faced a 75-68 Thursday night loss to the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Meanwhile, Thursday night proved more successful for the Texans, earning a 70-63 win in Stephenville against the University of Texas-Arlington Mavericks.
With both teams having one day to rest and prepare, head coach Brette Tanner said they were cautious to not overwork the team, but wanted to make sure his squad was best prepared for the Saturday afternoon matchup.
“We just we kind of took it easy on Friday, we did practice, but we didn’t go long,” said head coach Brette Tanner. “I didn’t overdo it with them and we went over what was important and made sure that we were ready to go. These quick turnarounds games, it’s all about toughness. You can go over your opponents actions or whatever, but it’s all about toughness. Who’s going to be able to play a quick turnaround and bring energy.”
To open the game, the Texans went on an 6-0 run, but the Wildcats took back control of the game, and kept a single digit lead throughout the rest of the first half. Tanner credited the early run to pressure, but was proud of how his team eased into the matchup quickly.
“We were a team coming off a loss and they were coming in with all kinds of confidence,” Tanner said. “We felt a little bit of pressure early and they didn’t. But we got some defensive stops and that allowed us to go get a couple quick baskets. Once we did that, we started to relax and we started to kind of ease in to how we’re supposed to play.”
In the second half, the Wildcats got out to a quick 8-0 run, but the Texans went on another run to cut down the lead to one. The game stayed a one to two possession game for the remainder of the game. But, two defensive stops and caused turnovers eventually gave ACU the six point win.
By the end of the game, ACU shot 43 percent from the field and 31 percent from the 3-point line. They forced 21 turnovers, scoring 22 points off the Texans’ misfortunes. The Wildcats also made it to the free-throw line, shooting 22-31 from the charity stripe.
“The biggest thing is what we talked about the other night, we talked about how we didn’t shoot really the free throw line and we played backwards,” Tanner said. “We talked all day yesterday and this morning about we can’t make that mistake. I thought we did that today, that’s why we shot 31 free throws, because we attacked them. We brought the fight to them. We didn’t wait to sit back and let them bring it to us, and that’s a huge key.”
Scoring for the Wildcats was scattered across nine players on the Wildcat roster, four of them being in double digits.
Graduate guard Tobias Cameron, senior guard Damien Daniels and sophomore guard Ali Abdou Dibba each had 11 points during Saturday afternoon’s game. Leading all scorers was senior forward Airion Simmons, who finished the afternoon with 16 points, five rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
After the game, Tanner also said he was proud of his team and how he is excited to see how the team grows together throughout the rest of the season.
“I’m just really proud of the whole group and how they’re buying into what we do and their buying into each other,” Tanner said. “They’re building their relationships. ACU basketball is more than just winning and losing basketball games. We’re trying to create men and we’re trying to build good relationships. I think these guys are really buying into that and that usually turns out into good results on the floor.”
Now, after only having one day in between games, the Wildcats have a week off before their next matchup at home against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds (10-5, 2-0). The Thunderbirds saw two wins against New Mexico State (7-6, 0-1) and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley (8-6, 0-2) during opening weekend.
“We’ll practice on Monday and we’ll just kind of focus on us,” Tanner said. “We’ll watch a lot of film of these last two games because we didn’t get to watch film with the team over Thursday night’s game. They will probably take Tuesday off and let them recover because these last two were physical, street-fight games. Wednesday we’ll walk into Southern Utah because they’re really good. There’s no nights off in this league.”
ACU and Southern Utah tip-off next Saturday, Jan. 7 inside Moody Coliseum at 6 p.m. CST with the game streaming live on ESPN+ and the ACU Sports Network.