ACU’s (13-17, 7-11) season came to an end on Tuesday afternoon as the California Baptist Lancers (17-15, 7-10) held off the Wildcats, 69-62, in Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
“It’s always a tough time of year, you know, especially when you’re sitting here after a loss,” head coach Brette Tanner said. “We’ve been blessed as a program to be sitting here on the winning side of this many times. So I know how it feels to be on the other side of it.”
The Lancers drew first blood in the first half, going on a quick 7-2 burst to take an early lead. ACU quickly came back to tie the game at the second media timeout. The game stayed tight throughout the entire first half, but the Lancers shooting 7-12 from the free throw line, while ACU shot 1-2, giving them a 36-30 lead heading into halftime.
In the second half, CBU continued streaking and ACU struggled to score, allowing the Lancers to grow their lead up to 14 midway through the second half.
Then, around five minutes left in the game, the Wildcats had one more rally fueled by graduate guard Damien Daniels and junior guard Hunter Jack Madden to cut the lead to four with 42 seconds left.
“We just knew that we had to continue fighting and we made mistakes in the first half that we could fix,” Tanner said. “We knew that we had to continue to fight and not get discouraged by the mistakes being made because those were easy fixes. You know, we could maybe take lead in the second half.”
But, in the Wildcats’ final possession, two missed three-pointers and a foul on CBU put the game out of reach, sealing the Wildcats’ fate and ending their season.
Daniels finish the final game of the season with 16 points on 7-11 shooting and added six assists. Behind him for the Wildcats in scoring was Madden with 11 points on 4-10 shooting with eight rebounds.
After the game, Daniels credited his performance to his teammates creating opportunities for him and the idea of this being his last game.
“The thought really of having the last game, just going into it, I was wanting to give my all,” Daniels said. “The opportunity was there created by all my teammates. I was just going with the flow and it just happened to be a good night for me.”
With the loss comes the potential end of multiple seniors’ careers. Some of these include senior forwards Airion Simmons and Yuot Gui and senior guard Immanuel Allen, who all potentially have one year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Looking back at the season, Allen said one of the biggest takeaways he learned as a leader of the team was how important it is to never quit.
“We never quit the whole entire year,” Allen said. “There were a lot of times, especially in the early stages of this year, where it didn’t go the way we planned. A lot of the things could have caused us to turn against each other, instead, we really galvanized ourselves and got behind each other. We continued to push and keep fighting all the way to the end.”
Along with these seniors, ACU sees the loss of graduate guards Tobias Cameron and Daniels, as well as graduate forward Joe Pleasant, who all used their COVID-19 eligibility this season.
Earlier this season, Daniels and Cameron became the winningest duo in ACU’s history, as well as all three played a significant part in ACU’s first-ever NCAA tournament win against the University of Texas in 2021. Daniels also finishes his career as the all-time steals leader at ACU.
“It’s been a great time at ACU, just with the people I have met and the relationships we have built,” Daniels said. “There’s no place like this anywhere across the country. Everyone can talk the talk, but we actually walk the walk as a family, we’re connected on and off the court. It’s been a great experience and I will never forget it.”
The loss concludes ACU’s 2022-23 campaign. The Wildcats finished the season 13-17, the program’s first losing season since the 2016-17 season when the Wildcats finished the season 13-16.
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