Kats hold off ACU to win SLC opener

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HUNTSVILLE – Josh Delaney delivered a career-high 30 points, including 10 in the final three minutes, to lead the Sam Houston State Bearkats to a 71-68 win over Abilene Christian on Saturday evening at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.

The Bearkats (6-8, 1-0 SLC) led by as much as 25 points in the first half, but needed every bit of that cushion to withstand a vicious ACU (12-3, 1-1 SLC) charge in the second 20 minutes. Delaney was one of three Kats in double figures in the game and hit 10 of his 15 shots from the floor, including 5-for-7 from beyond the 3-point arc.

In all SHSU would hit half of its 16 tries from distance, but were just 1-for-6 from that range in the second half.

Kai Mitchell finished with 15 points and a team-high six rebounds, while Cameron Delaney hit five of his seven shots from the field and finished with 11 points of his own.

For ACU, who was playing without all-SLC big man Jalone Friday, Payten Ricks finished with a team-high 18 points with 15 coming in the second half. Jaylen Franklin and BJ Maxwell each finished with 11 points apiece.

Sam Houston held ACU to just 6-for-24 shooting in the opening half and without a bucket for nearly nine minutes as part of a 22-0 run that ballooned a 19-16 lead to 41-16 before a triple from Trey Lenox just before the halftime buzzer.

But it was as different story in the second half as ACU whittled the lead down to just two points at 59-57 with 4:15 to play. The score stayed that way until Delaney took over in the game’s final minutes, delivering 10 points and an assist in the final 3:01 to get the Kats into the win column.

Seven straight points from the senior and an assist to Mitchell kept the Kats in front by four with less than 40 seconds to go, and he made three of four at the foul line in the final stretch. His last foul shot gave the Kats a three-point lead, which turned out to be just enough when Maxwell’s 3-point try at the buzzer fell short.

UP NEXT

The Kats will look to move to 2-0 in the league on Wednesday when they travel to Conway, Ark., to battle Central Arkansas at the Farris Center.

HOW IT HAPPENED

The Kats controlled the opening period nearly from the start, taking the lead on an early 8-0 spurt that was fueled by a bucket from Marcus Harris and consecutive threes from both Delaneys.

The lead was still at 19-16 when Maxwell nailed a 3-pointer for ACU with 9:15 to go in the half, but Mitchell answered with an old-fashioned three-point play on the other end and that got the Kats going. Each of their next nine points would come from beyond the arc on two treys by Josh Delaney and another from Albert Almanza.

Zach Nutall got in on the action as well, and after Josh Delaney canned the seventh 3-pointer of the half for the Kats with 1:15 to go, Sam Houston led by as much as 41-16 before going into the break up by 22.

But ACU was not done, one game away from erasing a 14-point deficit in a win over UNO. The Wildcats opened up the half on a 9-3 run and had the lead down to just to 13 just five minutes into the half.

Chad Bowie answered with a bucket that sparked a 7-2 run that pushed the lead back to 18, but less than four minutes later the Wildcats had cut the lead all the way down to single digits on five straight points from Franklin. The lead was still at 59-46 for the Bearkats with 6:24 to play before ACU went on to score on four straight possessions, the final two being 3-point buckets from Ricks that brought the lead all the way down to 59-57 and forced a Bearkat timeout with 4:15 to play.

That’s when Delaney put the game in his own hands, beating the shot clock with a layup on the next possession and scoring at the rim each of the next two times down the floor to keep ACU on the back end of the scoreboard.

Another 3-pointer from Maxwell and a bucket from Franklin gave ACU hope in the final minute, but it was not enough to overcome the Kats and Delaney who hit three of his four foul shot in the final 11 seconds of the game to close it out.