Abilene Christian is off to a hot start in the Southland Conference at 10-2.
Back in 2013-14, Abilene Christian made the jump from NCAA division two basketball up to division one in the Southland Conference under head coach Joe Golding who is a former Wildcats player from 1994-98.
During the first five years following their transition to D1, Abilene Christian struggled going just 63-91. However, year six was the breakthrough Golding and his squad had been working towards when they went 27-7 in 2018-19 winning the Southland title and earning their first ever birth in the NCAA tournament.
Golding said, “To go from being from one of the worst division one teams in the country and to continue to build it to where you make the NCAA tournament it was so gratifying for me to see the smiles on our players faces.” He added, “Those seniors were freshman when we were one of the worst teams but they stuck together and continued to work really hard and then their story ends with them winning 27 games and they make the NCAA tournament.”
Abilene Christian followed up their magical run to March Madness with a 20 win season in 2019-20 which was good for the No.2 seed heading into the conference tournament. However, it was of course eventually cancelled along with the rest of college basketball.
Abilene Christian has come out of the gates strong in 2020-21 with wins over East Tennessee State who was a 30 win team last year as well as conference foes Houston Baptist and Lamar. Their only two losses have come against Arkansas and Texas Tech who is coached by Chris Beard who Golding points to as one of his best friends in basketball.
Golding admits that the next step for his program is to compete at a higher level against the high major programs.
On the court, Abilene Christian has one of the more balanced attacks in college basketball with the teams leading scorer Coryon Mason averaging 11.3 points per game. 7-foot senior center Kolton Kohl is second on the team with 9.9 points per game along with five rebounds.
However, its Abilene Christian’s suffocating defense that has been the key to their success under Golding. Through the first 12 games of 2020-21 the Wildcats rank No.8 in the country with just 58.6 points per game allowed which also ranks No.1 in the Southland.
Teams often take on the personality of their head coach and you can see elements of that with Abilene Christian. Golding said, “I kind of enjoy being off the beaten path and I’ve always been that guy that has a chip on their shoulder and I’ve always had to work my butt off to get where I’m at and nothing was every given to me.”
Over the past decade, the Southland has been dominated by Stephen F. Austin with four NCAA tournament appearances between 2014 and 2020. However, the tide could be turning in Texas with the emergence of Abilene Christian under the guidance of Golding.
Golding spoke about the goals for his team heading in 2021 and said, “I used to be caught up like any young coach and would talk to our team about winning 20 games every year and setting goals on wins and getting to the tournament but we quit doing that crap around here and just started trusting the process and trying to get better every day.”
The 2021 Southland Conference tournament should be one of the more tightly contested in recent memory but expect Abilene Christian to be in the mix for another birth into the NCAA tournament come March.
To listen to the entire interview with Joe Golding click the below link (start at the 12 minute mark).