ACU (1-2, 0-0) dropped its home opener on Tuesday to Prairie View A&M (2-2, 0-0) in a final score of 79-74. The game was highlighted at the charity stripe, where both teams combined for 63 free throw attempts.
The back-and-forth contest saw many different lead changes, with the chance for the WIldcats to break open the game in the first half but ultimately got behind late in the second and could never fully recover.
“I just thought we settled,” head coach Brette Tanner said. “We didn’t play physical. We were not the most aggressive team and that’s the message. We’ve got to be more aggressive because it doesn’t get any easier.
The Wildcats entered Tuesday night’s matchup following a road loss to the NC State Wolfpack 84-64 in their previous game, while the Panthers were coming off back-to-back losses.
The Wildcats began the game by mounting an early lead after a three-pointer from senior forward Cameron Steele, followed by a three-pointer from senior guard Hunter Jack Madden, less than two minutes later.
The Panthers responded quickly going on an 11-1 run taking their first lead of the game at 15-11. Down three with eight minutes remaining in the half, sophomore guard Nassir DeGruy scored eight straight points for the Wildcats, including back-to-back three-point plays. The scoring outburst sparked a 15-4 run for ACU and after two free throws from Steele, the Wildcats grabbed their biggest lead of the night at 36-27.
A final second three-pointer kept the Panthers right on the heels of the Wildcats and ACU took a 37-35 lead to end the first half.
“The bottom line is we have got to be better,” Tanner said. “I don’t think we were very aggressive. We did not follow the game plan at all. We did our own thing in the first half and it showed.”
Both teams struggled from the field in the first 20 minutes with ACU shooting 39.39% and PVAMU shooting 37.50%. However, the free throws are what kept the Panthers right in the game, having 16 attempts from the line and cashing in on all 16 of them.
Three minutes into the second half junior guard Ali Abdou Dibba took a fast break to the basket for a three-point play to give the Wildcats a seven-point lead, the largest they would see for the remainder of the game.
“Ali is a good player and we need him,” Tanner said. “But I also think he left a lot on the table today. I think he was the one that should have had 22 points and shot 14 free throws.”
Another three-pointer from Madden allowed the Wildcats to hold on to the lead for a little longer, but with 12:32 remaining in the game, the Panthers took a slim one-point lead.
Past the nine minute mark, the Panthers would hold a tight lead up until 4:25 when Madden sank another three to tie the game at 70. With 1:08 remaining, senior forward Arion Simmons made a layup to cut the lead to one. Unfortunately for Simmons however, he would then miss the go-ahead bucket on the very next possession.
The Wildcats elected to foul in order to have a full possession next time down the floor, but after two more made free throws, a miscommunication led to a turnover in the corner and the game was sealed with another pair of Panther free throws at 79-74.
“They were more aggressive,” Tanner said. “I told our guys before the game started that we have got to be the most aggressive team or we won’t like the outcome and we weren’t.
PVAMU finished with 12 more points off turnovers and double the amount of fast break points ACU finished with, two areas the Wildcats have found lots of success in in recent years.
Dibba led the team with 16 points to go along with two steals. Madden finished with 14 points with four made threes and Steele finished with seven points as well as led the team in rebounds with nine.
Chris Felix Jr. led the way for the Panthers, finishing with 25, followed closely behind by Andre Nunley who had 22 in 36 minutes of action. The Panthers shot 97% from the free throw line going 33-34 from the charity stripe.
The Wildcats will look to get back on track when they head to the U.S. Virgin Islands this weekend for the Paradise Jam Tournament with their first matchup coming against San Jose State on Friday at 3:15 p.m. with the game streaming live on ESPN+.