ABILENE, Tex. — The Southland Conference standings are almost as congested as the subways in Toronto, ON during the morning rush hour on a Tuesday.
Coming into Wednesday night’s action, the teams in first place and 10th place are separated by just four games. Nine teams in the league have a record of at least .500 against conference foes, adding some drama to the second half of league play as the calendars prepare to be flipped to February.
Right in the middle of the log jam are the Abilene Christian Wildcats and Lamar Cardinals. Both teams enter their tilt on Wednesday night with identical 13-9 records overall, and 5-4 records in conference play. Both teams are looking to pick up a win and separate themselves from the pack and make a move up in the standings.
With only eight teams making the Southland Conference tournament in Katy, TX, each and every game is significant.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of the only regular season meeting of the 2017-18 season between Abilene Christian and Lamar.
Last Time Out
In their last outing, the Cardinals found themselves in a fight with the McNeese State Cowboys that came right down to the wire. Lamar posted five players in double figures, and they used a 10-2 run to close the game and seal the deal on their 86-80 victory in their first of two meetings with the Cowboys on the season.
Lamar and McNeese State will square off again in the regular season finale on March 3rd in Lake Charles, LA.
Senior forward Colton Weisbrod led the way for the Cardinals, scoring 19 points to go along with seven rebounds in the win. He was one of five Lamar players to reach double figures. Joey Frenchwood also had 19 points to go with his four rebounds and three assists, while Zjori Bosha and Josh Nzeakor each recorded 13 points and 10 rebounds for matching double-doubles.
Unlike the Cardinals, the Wildcats weren’t as successful in their last outing. They ran into a hot-shooting Texas A&M-CC Islanders team, and they weren’t able to keep pace. The Islanders shot over 57% from the floor on the day, and picked up the 80-66 win on their home floor over Abilene Christian.
It was the second loss in a three game stretch for the Wildcats, which comes after they won four of five before that.
In just 24 minutes of action, Jalone Friday scored a team-best 16 points to pace the Wildcats. Tevin Foster added 12 points of his own, while Jaylen Franklin added nine points, four assists, four steals, and three rebounds in the loss. Hayden Farquhar posted nine points off the bench, hitting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc in 14 minutes of action.
During the 2016-17 season, the Cardinals and Wildcats met just once, and it was also inside Moody Coliseum in Abilene, TX. It was a game that was close right to the finish, and it provided one of the more exciting finishes of the year. Payten Ricks drilled a half-court three to beat the buzzer, and Abilene Christian held down their home court with a 67-64 win over the Cardinals on January 14th, 2017.
Ricks connected on his only trifecta of the game after a turnover by Frenchwood in the closing seconds. Ricks finished with seven points and three rebounds. Jalone Friday came off the bench to score a game-high 23 points, while Jaren Lewis posted a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Colton Weisbrod led the way for Lamar, posting a double-double of his own in the loss. He finished with 21 points, on 7-of-13 shooting, and 10 rebounds. Dorian Chatman came off the bench to post 16 points and five rebounds, while Lincoln Davis added 12 points of his own as a reserve.
Players to Watch
– 12.0 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 0.6 apg; 48.5% FG in 22 games.
– Nzeakor has three double-double performances over his last four games; Lamar is 3-1 over that stretch.
– In conference play, the junior is averaging 14.0 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, while posting five double-doubles in nine games (seven total in 2017-18).
– 17.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.2 spg; 48.5% FG, 42.4% 3PT in 22 games.
– Weisbrod has four games with 20+ points in conference play, including a 38 point performance on 1/3 vs. Central Arkansas.
– He has reached double figures in 19/22 games as a senior in 2017-18, and 45 times over his two seasons with the Cardinals thus far.
– 10.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.7 apg, 2.0 spg; 55.3% FG in 22 games.
– Franklin is shooting above 50% from the floor for the second time in his career. He shot 51.3% from the floor as a freshman in 2015-16 (Southland Conference Freshman of the Year).
– He is one of four players this season averaging double-digit points per game for the Wildcats, and he has 10 games with double figures in 2017-18.
– 13.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg; 47.5% FG, 73.7% FT in 22 games.
– Friday was the 2016-17 Southland Conference Freshman of the Year, giving Abilene Christian the last two recipients of the award (Franklin).
– The 6’9” forward can stretch the floor with his three point shooting (38.5%) and his ability to finish around the rim.
Every game in the Southland Conference from here on out will play a big role in determining who makes the conference tournament, and who is seeded where when the attention shifts to Katy, TX.
With so many teams within striking distance, a win will go a long way in terms of building momentum towards a run at the title. For both Abilene Christian and Lamar, a win on Wednesday would help separate themselves from the pack a bit. The Wildcats are looking to bounce back from a double-digit loss in their last outing, while the Cardinals are looking to make it two straight victories.
History is on the side of the Wildcats, as they have last season’s home victory over Lamar to draw from. In a game that will come down to the wire, Abilene Christian will find a way to hang on and secure the close win and move to 6-4 in Southland Conference play.
Abilene Christian – 72
Lamar – 69
– T. Bennett