LAKE CHARLES, LA - McNeese went toe-to-toe with the best team in the Southland Conference in terms of overall record and had a chance at a game-winner, but mishandling of a dribble by Kevin Hunt, then a recovery with two seconds to play, forced a bad shot from 20 feet out and the Cowboys dropped a 73-72 home league game to Abilene Christian on Wednesday night.
The loss was the second straight by the Cowboys (5-11, 1-2 SLC) while ACU improved to 13-3 overall and 2-1 in the conference.
In a game that featured 19 lead changes and four ties, McNeese fell behind by 11 points early in the second half but rallied behind the three-point shooting of James Harvey and Trey Touchet.
“I’m really proud of the way we battled against, what I think right now, is as good a team as anybody in the league,” said head coach Heath Schroyer. “They’ve built that program over four years, and for us to go toe-to-toe in year one for us, I’m proud of our guys.”
Harvey led the Cowboys with 17 points after hitting 5 of 8 from long range while Touchet contributed with 12 points on 2 of 3 aim from 3-point land and 5 of 7 overall, including a couple of highlight reel driving layups.
“We did a lot of good things tonight,” said Schroyer. “But I give Abilene a lot of credit. They’re really good.”
Trailing by 4 with 40 seconds to play and after ACU’s Jaylen Franklin missed the second of two free throws, Harvey pulled the Cowboys to within 1 at 71-70 with 27 seconds to play on a play drawn up that had Harvey bounce out to the top of the key as Touchet fed him for his sixth assist of the game.
“He made a big-time shot,” said Schroyer of Harvey’s basket. “We did a lot of good things. We’re a possession or two away from getting over the hump.”
McNeese was forced to foul on the ACU inbound play and Jaren Lewis, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, knocked down both free throws to put the Wildcats on top 73-70 with 16 seconds remaining.
On the ensuing possession, Hunt drove the entire length of the court after taking the inbound pass for an easy layup to make it a 73-72 game with 8.6 seconds left on the clock.
McNeese fouled again with 6.3 seconds to play and ACU’s Joe Pleasant missed both free throws. Roydell Brown, who recorded his eighth double-double on the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds, pulled in the board and gave it off to Hunt whose attempt at the game-winner fell off the mark.
“We ran the same play as we did the play before,” said Schroyer about the final possession. “We had James and Trey in each corner and KJ either takes it himself or if he’s crashed down on, gets it out to the corner. Unfortunately, he bounced it off his leg (when making his move).”
Malik Hines added 14 points and six rebounds and played 31 minutes in large part because Sha’Markus Kennedy was hampered with foul trouble. Kennedy, who provides an impressive presence in the paint, played just two minutes in the second half after picking up his third and fourth fouls in the first 1½ minutes of the frame. He returned with 3:29 to play and with the Cowboys trailing 67-63 and quickly scored on a hook shot to pull McNeese to within 67-65 just 26 seconds later. But 18 seconds after that, he was whistled for his fifth foul and left the game with 2:45 remaining.
As a team, the Cowboys had their best night of the season when taking care of the ball, turning it over just six times while dishing out 20 assists.
The Cowboys shot 47 percent on the night (25-53) including 54 percent in the first half. Form long range, McNeese was 8 of 15 for 53 percent for the game and was much better at the free throw line from the prior game, hitting 14 of 19 for 74 percent.
ACU connected on 26 of 52 from the floor and 10 of 22 from long range, but after knocking down 8 of 15 in the first have from behind the arc, McNeese held the Wildcats to just 2 of 7 in the second half.
ACU’s Payten Ricks led his team with 19 points behind 5 of 8 shooting from 3-point range with all of his 3s coming in the first half.
McNeese started the game on a 7-0 run but ACU got hot and went on a 14-4 run to take a 14-11 lead just six minutes into the game. From then until halftime, the lead would change hands 12 more times with three more ties as the Wildcats put together a 5-0 run in the final 2:17 to take a 39-36 halftime lead.
The Cowboys will return to action on Saturday when they visit New Orleans, a 78-71 overtime winner at Lamar on Wednesday. Tip-off for that game will be at 4:15 and will follow a 2 p.m. contest between the Cowgirls and UNO.