KATY, Texas — Jaylen Franklin couldn’t hide his emotions after Abilene Christian’s climb to its first NCAA Tournament was complete.
Jaren Lewis had 20 points and six rebounds, Franklin added 16 points and six assists, and the Wildcats beat New Orleans 77-60 on Saturday night to win the Southland Conference championship.
Following the final buzzer, Lewis and Franklin hugged and Franklin cried a bit, while Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding ran around looking for someone to hug.
“In the summer, we told ourselves, this was our last ride, so for our seniors, we wanted to go out the right way,” Franklin said. “We were very emotional because it was four years here, and we couldn’t go to the post-season. This means a lot.”
Lewis shot 10 of 17 from the field.
“All the emotions came out because it was a testament to a lot of hard work and a lot of struggles, especially in our early years,” Lewis said. “We took a lot of losses and learned a lot of lessons. It was nice to see it culminate in today.”
Hayden Farquhar had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Joe Pleasant scored 14 points for Abilene Christian (27-6). The Wildcats won their sixth straight, shooting 56 per cent.
The Wildcats have been in Division I for six years and were making their first appearance in the Southland Conference Tournament. They last won a conference championship in 1987, taking the NCAA Division II Lone Star Conference championship.
“This is really hard to do,” Golding said. “There are a lot of things involved in seeing that confetti drop. I wanted to step back, and I just wanted to watch and take it all in.”
Bryson Robinson scored 14 points, and Scott Plaisance added 13 points and eight rebounds for New Orleans (19-13). The Privateers were looking for their second NCAA Tournament berth in three years and sixth overall after advancing to the tournament in 2017. New Orleans shot 40 per cent and committed 20 turnovers.
New Orleans coach Mark Slessinger said Abilene Christian outplayed the Privateers and was the better team.
“They got out to a hot start, and over the course of the game, we didn’t have an answer for Jaren Lewis,” Slessinger said. “We felt all along he was one of the better players in the league, and he played like it today. We struggled to find a rhythm, turned the ball over way too many times for us to be able to win a championship-level game like this.”
The Wildcats used an 18-2 run over an 8 1/2-minute stretch of the first half to take a 32-17 lead on Franklin’s 3-pointer. Lewis had six points to lead the run. New Orleans responded with a 9-2 spurt, cutting the lead to eight on Robinson’s 3-pointer with 3 1/2 minutes remaining the half.
Abilene Christian led 40-29 at the half behind 58 per cent shooting from the field. New Orleans could get no closer than eight in the second half.
“We just had to get stops,” Robinson said. “We didn’t get enough stops, and we couldn’t stop Jaren. He had a terrific game today, and we couldn’t shut them down as a team.”
New Orleans: The fourth-seeded Privateers were playing their third game in three days. They advanced to the title game with wins over Lamar and top-seeded Sam Houston State. … The Privateers started 5 of 7 from the field, but finished the first half 5 of 17.
Abilene Christian: The Wildcats controlled the paint, outscoring New Orleans 48-28. … The Wildcats turned New Orleans’ 20 turnovers into 13 points.
NO FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY
With 10 1/2 minutes left in the second half, the game was delayed for about five minutes as the officials worked to turn off a photographer’s flash that was in the rafters.
New Orleans: The Privateers accepted an invitation to the CIT Tournament and will host a game on Wednesday.
Abilene Christian: The Wildcats will compete in the NCAA Tournament next week.