College Basketball

Abilene Christian takes Southland men's basketball title for 2nd straight season

By Dennis Silva II, Sports Editor
Posted 3/14/21

Abilene Christian entered the Southland Conference men’s basketball tournament championship game Saturday ranked eighth in the NCAA in scoring defense. Then the Wildcats went out and showed why.

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College Basketball

Abilene Christian takes Southland men's basketball title for 2nd straight season

Posted

Abilene Christian entered the Southland Conference men’s basketball tournament championship game Saturday ranked eighth in the NCAA in scoring defense. Then the Wildcats went out and showed why.

Abilene Christian, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, downed No. 1-seed Nicholls in a start-to-finish rout, 79-45, at the Merrell Center to earn the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

It is the 14th consecutive year Katy has hosted the tournament at the Merrell Center.

Using the strength of a rangy, quick and relentless defense, the Wildcats (23-4) held the Colonels (18-7), ranked 27th in the NCAA in scoring, to 34 points below their season average of 79.8 points.

The 45 points were a season-low for Nicholls, which shot 29.7 percent. Ranked 45th in the NCAA in rebounding (38.4 per game), the Colonels were outdone, 53-34, on the glass and had 15 turnovers to eight assists.

Nicholls missed 23 of 27 3-pointers and eight of 11 free throws.

“We really defended,” said Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding, whose team entered the final surrendering 61.1 points per game. “We really guarded. That’s our identity, that’s who we are.”

It was the second straight Southland Conference tournament win for Abilene Christian, which won its first ever tournament title in 2018-19. The tournament was canceled March 12 of last year and a champion was not crowned because of the pandemic.

Senior guard Damien Daniels was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. The Kansas City native scored 13 points with three rebounds, three assists and two steals, making six of seven shots.

Abilene Christian held an 18-point lead late in the first half before Nicholls guard Ty Gordon sparked a late 17-4 rally with a pair of 3s to cut the Colonels’ deficit to five, 36-31, at halftime.

But the Wildcats came out on a 10-2 run to start the second half and never let up as Nicholls scored 10 points in the first 10 minutes of the half.

“We took care of the ball, we took the right shots,” junior forward Joe Pleasant said. “The key thing was to lock in defensively, get stops. The offense will come off of that.”

The Colonels missed 27 of 33 field goal attempts after halftime and scored one point over the final six minutes of the game.

“I’ve been in this league five years, and they’re as good defensively as I’ve seen,” Nicholls coach Austin Claunch said. “They scramble and move and make it hard for anyone. Good offensive teams, great players. They're different defensively in how they deny and scramble and run you off the (3-point) line. It’s a testament to their discipline.”

Offensively, ACU pulled away thanks to lights-out 3-point shooting. After connecting on just three of nine 3s in the first half, the Wildcats drilled eight of 13 in the second. Four Wildcats scored in double figures, led by Daniels and Pleasant with 13 points apiece. Senior guards Reggie Miller and Coryon Mason scored 11 each. Miller added a game-high 10 rebounds. Mason added a game-high six assists.

“This year has been tough for any number of reasons, and this group has made it as fun as any year I’ve been a part of,” said Golding, who saw 10 of his players score and every player on his roster get playing time.

The Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament having won 13 of their last 14 games.

“They have no insecurities about who they are, and they play their game,” Claunch said.

Aside from Daniels, Miller, Pleasant and senior center Kolton Kohl were named to the All-Conference team. Nicholls, which made the tournament final for the first time since 1998, named Kevin Johnson to the team.

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