NACOGDOCHES, Texas – The ACU Wildcats learned a hard lesson Wednesday night: when you’ve got the champion on the ropes, make sure you deliver the knockout blow. Instead, the Wildcats let Stephen F. Austin off the ropes and the Lumberjacks broke ACU’s heart with a 61-60 win at Johnson Coliseum.
Except for a couple of brief lapses, the Wildcats led throughout the game and, despite not getting any points from leading scorer Jalone Friday and only six from second-leading scorer Jaren Lewis, controlled the tempo and the play for most of the contest.
ACU led 60-53 with 46 seconds left after Payten Ricks canned two free throws, giving his team what seemed like a comfortable lead.
But as the Wildcats would learn over the next few fateful seconds, nothing is ever comfortable against a team playing with its backs against the wall trying to protect its perch atop the Southland Conference pecking order.
After Kevon Harris turned the ball over with 35 seconds left, Jaylen Franklin went to the free throw line to try and extend the lead. But Franklin — who was 3 for 3 at the line before the trip the stripe — missed the front end and SFA grabbed the defensive rebound. That miss led to 1 of 2 free throws by Davonte Fitzgerald with 26 seconds left and a 60-54 ACU lead.
ACU tried to get the ball inbounds against SFA’s pressure defense, but Lewis turned it over and it led directly to a dunk by Harris and suddenly the Lumberjacks had life, down just 60-56. On the next inbounds pass, Ricks dribbled the ball off his leg with 17 seconds to play and SFA turned that into a bucket by Bogues and suddenly ACU’s lead was just 60-58.
The Wildcats got the ball inbounds on their next attempt and Ricks was fouled on the sideline and he went to the line to shoot 1-and-1. But Ricks — who was 4 for 4 at the line before the late trip to the stripe and was an 84-percent free throw shooter entering the game — missed the front end of the 1-and-1 and Nathan Bain grabbed the defensive rebound for SFA.
The Lumberjacks pushed the ball up the floor and Bogues pulled up from the right wing and drained his fourth 3-pointer of the night to give SFA a 61-60 lead with less than five seconds to play. Ricks raced the ball up the floor for ACU, but his potential game-winning 3-pointer from the right wing was just short and the Lumberjacks stormed the floor to celebrate a miraculous win, leaving the Wildcats to contemplate a stunning and disheartening loss.
The loss wasted a terrific effort off the bench by senior Hayden Farquhar, who scored a career-high 19 points in 18 minutes in place of Friday. Farquhar was 8 for 9 from the floor (3 for 4 from 3-point range) and scooped up five rebounds before he was forced to leave the game with a lower back injury after taking a hard spill on a drive by Harris.
Franklin finished the game with 15 points, while Ricks had 11 for the Wildcats. Harris led all scorers with 24 points for SFA, while Bogues — who scored the final five points of the game for SFA — finished with 20.
ACU is back at home for two straight games beginning with Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game against Central Arkansas at Moody Coliseum. The Wildcats are now 16-4 overall and 5-2 in the league and 1 1/2 games behind league-leading Sam Houston, which improved to 6-0 Wednesday night with a road win at Northwestern State.
SFA — the defending conference tournament champion — is now 10-8 overall and 3-3 in the league and the Lumberjacks are off Saturday before hosting Central Arkansas next Wednesday night in Nacogdoches.