FORT WORTH – ACU head coach Joe Golding likes to call what his men's basketball team is working through "a process."
The Wildcats took another step in that process Tuesday night with a closer-than-it-sounds 71-64 loss to TCU at Daniel-Meyer Coliseum. The loss drops the Wildcats to 0-5 on the season, but was their most competitive 40 minutes of the season against a schedule that ranks as the 38th-toughest in NCAA Division I basketball in the early part of the season.
ACU trailed by 14 points early in the second half, rallied to tie the game at 58-58 with 4:59 to play and crept to within 63-62 with 2:13 to play before the Horned Frogs (1-2) 4 of 6 free throws and a pair of layups in the final 2:04 to pull away.
"We had a tough game in Iowa (Sunday), but I thought we did a great job (Tuesday night)," Golding said. "We're just trying to get better, and I thought it was a great step for our program when we got down by 14 and came back and had a chance to win the game at the end. This move up (to NCAA Division I basketball) is a process, and this is another step forward for us."
ACU trailed 32-29 at halftime after a back-and-forth first half that saw the Wildcats take two leads and tie the game twice. But TCU scored the first eight points of the second half and 15 of the first 19 in the half to take a 47-33 lead with 14:07 left in the game.
"In the last four games, that 14-point lead would have grown to 20 or 25 points, but our guys kept fighting and kept their composure," Golding said. "I'm really proud of the way they fought and kept getting after it on both ends of the floor."
The Wildcats finally got the lead below double-digits with 9:48 to play when Austin Cooke buried a 3-pointer from the right wing to cut the TCU lead to 54-45. That was the start of a 16-4 ACU run over a 4:49 stretch that led to a tie game at 58-58.
LaDarrien Williams hit a jumper and then converted an old-fashioned three-point play to cut the lead to 55-50 with 8:21 to play After a TCU free throw, Riley Payne hit a layup to make it 56-52 with 7:03 to play before Parker Wentz buried his fourth 3-pointer of the night to cut the TCU lead to 56-55 with 6:28 left in the game.
After Christian Gore hit a layup with 5:12 to play to push the TCU lead back to 58-55, Austin Cooke knocked down a 3-pointer to knot the game at 58-58 with 4:59 left in the game. Trailing 63-60 with 2:13 to play, Cooke knocked down a pair of free throws to once again make it a one-point game (63-62).
With less than 90 seconds to play, Brandon Parrish missed a jumper, but plucked his own offensive rebound away from a pair of Wildcat defenders and put it back in with 1:24 to play to make it a 65-63 lead and that turned out to be the decisive bucket. The Wildcats missed three 3-pointers in the final 60 seconds as they fell to 0-16 all-time against the Horned Frogs.
Wentz led the Wildcats with 14 points, while Harrison Hawkins had 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists in his best all-around performance as a Wildcat. Cooke had 12 points and seven rebounds and Williams added 10 points and three rebounds.
For the first time this season the Wildcats won the rebounding battle, beating TCU 37-33 on the boards.
ACU will be back in action this weekend in the Angelo State Classic in San Angelo when it will play Western New Mexico and Northern New Mexico. The Wildcats will then return to NCAA Division I play next Monday against Xavier in Cincinnati.