That was what the ACU men’s basketball team was missing. At least that is what the emphasis was over the past two days of practice.
Getting that swagger back.
And the Wildcats did just that.
Airion Simmons had his best game in nearly two weeks, Damien Daniels played like a giant, and ACU got its swagger back with an 84-68 win over UT Arlington on Saturday night at Moody Coliseum.
Things got off to an interesting start at Moody. UTA guard Kyron Gibson was on fire, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers to give the Mavericks an early lead.
But, then Airion Simmons got the Wildcats going. Simmons hit a pair of 3-pointers as part of a 15-0 run over a six-minute span. And ACU would never trail again.
Kyron Gibson’s third 3-pointer of the night stopped the bleeding for a moment.
But when Damien Daniels flexed after hitting a driving layup and getting fouled, the swagger was back.
A look at @Dt1me's and-1 off the steal!
— ACU Men’s Basketball (@ACU_MBB) January 22, 2023
Daniels completed the 3-point play, giving the Wildcats a 22-9 lead with just over nine minutes left in the half.
“I felt like our swagger … we got our swag back,” Daniels said.
Shemar Wilson hit a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to five with 3:01 to play. But, the Mavericks did not score another point before halftime.
Manny Allen and Ali Dibba capped the scoring in the first half to give ACU a 36-27 lead at the break.
The teams traded buckets out of the halftime locker room before ACU took control.
Manny Allen’s jumper with 18:33 to play gave ACU a 10-point lead and sparked a 10-0 run to push the lead to 18. Airion Simmons and Hunter Jack-Madden hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the run.
And ACU ramped up its defense all night.
In fact, ACU held UT Arlington scoreless for over 12 minutes on Saturday night.
“Really pleased,” ACU head coach Brette Tanner said of the defensive effort. “We’ve been turning people over. But the stat sheets have been weird. I mean we’ve been turning people over 20 or more times … I think what’s happened the last couple of weeks … we played safe. When we struggled to score on the offensive end, we allowed our defense to suffer. I don’t think we allowed that to happen tonight. I felt it for a brief second in the first half. We had timeout. I told them ‘that doesn’t fly.’ We’re playing defense. I think I said ‘we’re going to go turn them over right now.’ And I believe we went and got a turnover.”
It wasn’t the usual 20-turnover game by the ACU defense.
But, with the way the Wildcats shot the ball, especially in the second half, it didn’t matter.
The Wildcats shot 80 percent from the field. And Airion Simmons and Cam Steele put on a shooting clinic from the perimeter after halftime. The ACU forwards were a combined 5-6 from 3-point land after halftime.
Tobias Cameron gave ACU its biggest lead at 78-53 on a layup with 3:52 to play.
UTA finished the game on a 6-0 run.
Along with Simmons, three other Wildcats were in double figures. Damien Daniels finished with 15 points. Cam Steele finished with 13 points. And Tobias Cameron finished with 10 points.
Kyron Gibson had a game-high 20 points. Shemar Wilson and Marion Humphrey were also in double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
With the win, ACU improves to 10-10 overall and 2-5 in WAC play. The Wildcats host GCU on Thursday and Utah Tech on Saturday.
UT Arlington falls to 7-14 overall and 2-6 in WAC play. The Mavs host CBU on Wednesday before getting a week off.