LAKE CHARLES, La. – Learning how to close out games and win can sometimes be a painful process. The ACU Wildcats suffered another painful lesson in both Saturday afternoon against a McNeese State team looking for a spot in the Southland Conference Post-Season Tournament.
ACU had every chance to beat the Cowboys and prolong their wait for clinching a spot in the tournament, but couldn't close the deal in regulation and simply ran out of gas in overtime as the Cowboys came away with a 95-91 win in a game the Wildcats dominated for most of the first 40 minutes at Burton Coliseum.
Twice in the final seconds of regulation the Wildcats went to the free throw line with a chance to get some separation from the Cowboys, but after starting the game 17 for 17 at the free throw line, Riley Payne and Rafael Farley combined to go just 1 of 4 from the stripe.
McNeese, meanwhile, took advantage of the Wildcats' misfortune at the line to rally from a 71-61 deficit with 3:36 to play in the game.
After Parker Wentz hit a pair of free throws for a 79-75 lead with 1:17 to play, the Cowboys' terrific guard, Ledrick Eackles hit a 3-pointer with 1:13 to play to cut the Wildcats' lead to 79-78. Shortly after that, Payne was fouled on a shot and went to the line to try and give the Wildcats a three-point lead.
Payne, though, missed both free throws to keep ACU's lead at one point. But with 40 seconds left, Eackles missed and fouled Rafael Farley on the rebound, fouling out with a career-high 35 points and sending Farley to the free throw line. Farley, though, missed the first before hitting the second to push ACU's lead to 80-78.
After McNeese's Kevin Hardy missed a shot with 19 seconds, he and Farley got hooked up going for the loose ball and Farley was whistled for the foul. Hardy nailed both free throw with 16 seconds to play to tie the game at 80-80, giving the Wildcats the chance for the last shot of the game.
Wentz – who finished with 24 points for his fifth straight game with at least 20 points – brought the ball up the floor and drove into the lane with three seconds to play. But instead of shooting he passed to Farley in the corner for a jumper that would have won the game if it had gone. But the shot was deflected and the game went to overtime.
McNeese carried every bit of momentum into the extra five minutes as Craig McFerrin hit a pair of free throws just 14 seconds into the overtime period to give the Cowboys an 82-80 lead, the first lead in a game in which the Wildcats led by as many as 11 points in the first half and by as many as 10 points three different times in the second half.
Julian Edmonson finished with 24 points and his three 3-pointers in the overtime period kept the Wildcats close, but they weren't enough. McNeese State hit 15 of 16 free throws in the second half and 8 of 15 in the overtime period to aid its comeback effort.
McNeese hurt ACU all game on the boards where it ended the game with a 39-24 rebounding advantage over the Wildcats. The Cowboys grabbed 19 offensive rebounds compared to just four for the Wildcats.
Wentz and Edmonson had 24 apiece for the Wildcats, who also got 11 from Farley and 10 off the bench from Jacob Lancaster.
The Wildcats are now 11-19 overall and 2-11 in the Southland Conference and will close out their first NCAA Division I season next Saturday when they host Incarnate Word at 3 p.m. at Moody Coliseum.
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