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No. 2 Abilene Christian dominates No. 1 Nicholls to win Southland Tournament



ABILENE, TX– The title of Southland’s best remains in Wildcat Country.

Second seed Abilene Christian never trailed on their way to a 79-45 win over top seed Nicholls to claim their second-straight Southland Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship. The victory gives the Wildcats (23-4) the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“We came down here for 80 minutes,” said ACU coach Joe Golding, whose team won for the 13th time in their last 14 contests. “We really defended. We really guarded. That’s our identity.”

The Wildcats put on an impressive display of imposing its defensive will on the Colonels (15-7) in the second half, holding Nicholls to 14 points on 6-of-33 shooting (18.2 percent). ACU also owned the glass, outrebounding the Colonels by a 53-34 margin.

“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.”

Having advanced to the tournament final for the first time since 1998, the Colonels were never able to get an offense that averaged nearly 80 points per game on track.

Similar to Friday’s semifinal win over Lamar, ACU put its foot on the gas and never let up. After a brief 3-3 tie, the Wildcats floored the Colonels with a relentless offense and a defense that helped force Nicholls to miss 14 of their first 20 shots. The Colonels could not keep up the pace as its usually reliable three-point attack was only two for its first 10 from long range.

Down 32-14, the Colonels finally showed up, putting together a run that cut the lead to 11 with 2:40 left in the half. A Johnson three-pointer began the Nicholls comeback that was further trimmed on consecutive treys from Ty Gordon, bringing them within 34-29 at the 1:48 mark of the first half.

The closing 17-4 run enabled Nicholls to weather the initial ACU surge and left them trailing only 36-31 at intermission.

However, the Wildcats resumed the intensity after the half, opening the second half with a 13-2 run as three-pointers from Tournament Most Valuable Player Damien Daniels and fellow All-Tournament Team member Joe Pleasant put ACU back in control with a 46-33 cushion with 15:50 remaining. Tobias Cameron followed shortly after with a trey of his own that took the lead to 52-37 at the 12:51 mark.

The Colonels would get no closer than 14 as the Wildcats put together a tournament title-clinching run that was topped off by a steal and layup from Reggie Miller with 6:13 left that put ACU up by a commanding 65-44 margin.

At that point, Golding cleared the bench to give his reserves a taste of the championship moment. Ten players scored on the evening as everyone on the roster received at least one minute of court time.

“Everything we do on and off the court is family,” said ACU guard Miller, who scored 11 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, earning 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.”

Joining Daniels, Miller and Pleasant on the All-Tournament team were teammate and All-Conference first teamer Kolton Kohl and Nicholls’ Kevin Johnson, who scored 11 on Saturday.

“We will play hard for the Southland Conference across our chest,” said Golding, whose team will learn who they will face in the first round on Sunday afternoon.