– by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief
KATY, Texas — Abilene Christian head coach Joe Golding prepared his Wildcats, who needed to win two games to head back to the NCAA Tournament, to play their best games of the season. After the results of Friday and Saturday nights, do not be surprised if the Wildcats play at least two games as they officially enter the Big Dance.
Using their swarming defense that has been one of the best in forcing turnovers nationally, the No. 2 seed Wildcats overwhelmed top-seeded Nicholls and coasted to a 79-45 wire-to-wire victory to claim the Southland Conference Tournament Championship and defend the title they won in 2019. Damien Daniels and Joe Pleasant each scored 13 points to pace the Wildcats, while guard Reggie Miller chipped in with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“We came down here for 80 minutes,” said ACU head coach Joe Golding, whose team won for the 13th time in its last 14 contests. “We really defended. We really guarded. That’s our identity.”
Defense is more than an identity to Abilene Christian, who finished first in the country nationally in turnovers forced per game and turnover margin, second in total steals and eighth in opponents points per game. Nicholls felt the full brunt of the Wildcats’ pressure, especially at the starts of each half, as ACU, who held a five-point lead at halftime, held the Colonels to just 14 second-half points and 6-of-33 shooting in the game’s final 20 minutes to break the game wide open.
The 34-point win capped off the Wildcats’ dominance in Katy, as they defeated Lamar by 22 (93-71) in their semifinal game on Friday.
“Obviously not our best night at the office,” said Nicholls coach Austin Claunch. “I’ve been in this league five years, and they’re as good defensively as I’ve seen. They scramble and move and make it hard for anyone. It’s a testament to their discipline.”
While Abilene Christian’s defensive activity was on display from the jump, it did not shy away from turning the game into a track meet, something that might have favored the Colonels and their near-80-points-per-game average on the season. Nicholls missed 14 of its first 20 shots as Abilene Christian opened up a 32-14 lead with just over six minutes to go in the half after a three-pointer by Miller.
Nicholls brightest moment of the game came at the end of the first half and after finding itself in that 18-point hole, going on a 17-4 run to end the half and go into the break just down by five. Ty Gordon led all Colonels scorers with 16 points, 13 coming in the first half.
However, the Wildcats started the second half on a 13-2 run to reestablish dominance of the game, and they continued to pour it on to secure another trip into the Madness.
“Everything we do on and off the court is family,” said Miller, who earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team. “We’re a loving group of student-athletes, and we come out every day in practice trying to make each other better. I feel like that culture is what sets us apart from everyone else in the country.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday night’s action, with all photos taken by Houston-area photographer Jamar Carrington. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are currently 15 pictures in total.