Lions edged at the wire, 61-58
Texas Wesleyan holds off SAGU comeback
Opportunities abound in an electric atmosphere
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Southwestern Assemblies of God University had a prime opportunity to upset one of the Red River Athletic Conference’s best teams on Thursday night in the Sheaffer Center. In the end, Texas Wesleyan University won a gut-check, 61-58, thriller in which they lost the nation’s #4 scorer in the first minute of the game.
The Lions fought valiantly and almost overcame their own cold shooting. They especially hurt themselves on the foul line, where they made just 10-of-19 attempts. The charity stripe has been most unkind to Southwestern this season, as they rank last in the 13-team league in free throw accuracy.
In the team’s six losses, they have outscored the opposition in baskets in all but two games. The foul line has led directly to the other four setbacks. The only team to make more baskets in a game has been Wesleyan, who has made exactly one more field goal in both meetings with SAGU this season.
Played before a packed, boisterous home crowd, the Lions led on four occasions, the last at 32-29. The game was knotted at 38 when by Jon Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS) converted a stickback from under the backboard with 10:57 to go. Over the next 2:47 the Rams scored seven unanswered points to grab their largest lead of the night at 45-38.
Eric Frederick, the 6’9 senior transfer who played for Isiah Thomas at Florida International (NCAA D-I) last season, scored five of the seven on a pair of power moves inside.
SAGU regrouped and stormed back, utilizing their M.O., offensive rebounds. Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Connally HS) cashed in on a miss that drew SAGU to within one (54-53) with 2:45 left.
Following a lay-in by Frederick and a steal that Brian Talley parlayed into a breakaway layup that fortified Wesleyan’s lead at 58-53, SAGU received a huge break. Talley was tagged with a technical foul for his unsportsmanlike expressions to a Southwestern player just seconds after his hoop.
Craig Grigsby (Houston, Tx / Glenda Dawson HS), the Lions’ best free throw shooter, made one of two with 1:43 remaining. On the ensuing possession, SAGU scored the first of two putback dunks on the offensive glass, much to the delight of The Jungle section.
Ward missed on a 3-point try, hustled to grab the carom, and shot again from the left block. As the ball bounced off the rim, Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan, Trinity Christian School), at 5’10, elevated above everyone on the right, and jammed a two-fisted bucket with 1:26 remaining. The Lions trailed 58-56.
After both teams failed to score on their next trip down the court, the Rams made a critical basket. From the center of the foul line, Oscar Griffin spotted 6'9 junior Christopher Angsomwine (ANG-sum-winnie) on the left block. His pinpoint pass to the outside allowed the latter to spin inside for a four-point lead with 42 seconds remaining.
With frenzied fans on their feet and the clock winding down, Rambo slashed the lane from an angle and tossed a runner. As the ball bounded high to the right, Ward soared and scored on a screaming, one-handed slam that lifted the roof! The Jungle Kings were within 60-58 with 0:28 showing.
To insure they got the ball back, SAGU sent Talley to the line, where he split a pair (0:17 to go). Knowing the Lions needed a three-point basket, the Rams guarded the perimeter.
Point Guard Ronald Horne (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Waco HS) split two defenders, drove the baseline and kicked the ball outside to Ward. "I knew 'Bo was open to my left," he said. He redirected Horne's pass to Rambo, open on the left wing. His try at a triple went begging, bouncing off the iron as the Rams celebrated a hard-fought, road victory.
The win improved #13 ranked Texas Wesleyan’s overall record to 19-4 and their RRAC mark to 14-3. SAGU slipped to 17-6 and 11-6, though they remain in fifth place. The Lions record is still their best since joining the NAIA.
A completely different outcome appeared determined just fifty-four seconds into the game. Senior guard Ronnie Moss, Jr., the Texas Christian University transfer, was ejected by officials when he physically vented his objection to a hard foul by the Lions’ Grigsby.
Minus Moss, Rams Avoid Loss
Moss, a one-thousand point scorer at TCU, took a pass from Griffin and zoomed downcourt for an apparent breakaway dunk. Grigsby raced to prevent the score from behind, resulting in a flagrant foul. By rule, two Lion reserves were also ejected for stepping onto the floor during the aftermath when players sought to separate Moss and Grigsby.
The Rams have two of the top four scorers in the NAIA in Frederick and Moss (24 ppg). The dismissal of Moss, who had an earlier ejection in a triple-overtime win at LSU-Shreveport, means he will have a two-game suspension. A third such display will end his season.
Southwestern failed to capitalize on his absence, as the Rams recovered. Several unlikely substitutes stepped in and contributed mightily to fill the void. Backup guard Tyler Sears played twenty minutes and netted a pair of threes, one giving the Rams a 50-44 lead with 5:56 left.
SAGU struggled to connect on their midrange game and their shots beyond on the arc.
Rambo and Walter made 3-of-16 and 2-of-13 respectively on a night when the team collectively shot 31% from the court. The Purple Pride hit 2-of-10 (20%) from long distance in each half. Even the bench was outscored by their Ram counterparts, 20-11.
Fortunately, the Lions were ferocious on the offensive boards and on defense throughout.
A month ago in Fort Worth the Rams hit 73% of their shots in a 102-86 win over SAGU. Thursday they were held to 40% and 41-points below their previous effort. The Lions forced 22 turnovers, 13 after halftime, while making just 15 themselves, six in the second half.
Rams' Coach Waldrop Game Review
“Our ability on defense to get crucial stops and vital rebounds down the stretch were huge,” said a relieved Terry Waldrop, the Rams’ head coach. “We grabbed the lead and held onto it, which kept their crowd from taking over. Plus, the Lions free throw shooting really cost them.”
“Give credit to Southwestern,” he added. “SAGU played very hard and competed. They never let up, even when we made big baskets. What kept them in the game were those offensive rebounds they kept getting. Winning on the road in conference play is always tough to do.”
True, while the Rams held a slight 38-37 lead in total boards, the Pride laid claim to an 18-13 advantage on offense, a stat in which they lead the Red River and are #2 in the nation. Not bad for a team considered next to last in height.
Coach Bostwick's Post-Game Comments
“When you play against high quality teams,” said SAGU head coach Donnie Bostwick, “it comes down to making the right adjustments and making the right calls. I could’ve done better in that regard, so I take responsibility for tonight. We finished the first half poorly though we executed much better down the stretch.”
The Lions took a 25-22 lead on a field goal by Horne with over four minutes remaining and didn’t score again until the second stanza.
“I was proud of my guy’s effort. They kept their cool in a very intense contest. I know they wish we had both this game and our other home loss (against Wiley College) back. If we take care of both of those home games, we’d be a Top 25 team. We have to refocus and play better against an even better team on Saturday.”
SAGU has #5 ranked Our Lady of the Lake University (20-4, 17-1 RRAC) coming to town for a 7:30pm tilt on February 11. The Saints lead the NAIA in both scoring, 98 points per game, and three-pointers per contest, with 12. OLLU topped the Lions in San Antonio in December, 98-79. They won the trifecta battle, 12-9, and the boards, 58-47.
The difference in the game was free throws, where the Saints took advantage of a season-high 33 fouls assessed against SAGU, cashing in on 34 of 49 from the foul line. Meanwhile the Lions swished only 8-of-28 in a game in which they made five more baskets than the hosts.
“Our crowd was incredible,” bragged Coach Bostwick. “They kept us in the game at times.”
“We simply can't shoot 30 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the FT line and win a big game. Ten of 19 from the line and we lose by three. Simple math. It is simply too hard to beat good teams when you shoot like that. But we will do better.”
“I thought Duce really played a tremendous game,” the coach's praise of the junior, who had his third straight stellar performance. “Defensively we gave ourselves a chance and we never quit. I simply did not have the right combinations on the floor when it counted and did not make the correct adjustment or calls for us to pull it out.”
Player Statistics for SAGU, TWU
Individually, Grigsby led with 17-points. He made 4-of-10 shots, including two of the team’s four triples; netted 7-of-11 free throws and racked up a game-high five steals.
Ward was the only Lions player to make more than half of his shots, canning 6-of-11. He finished with twelve points, six boards – four on the offensive end, while blocking two shots.
Rambo countered his off-night offensively, nine points, by leading the team in rebounds with eight during a 38-minute effort. Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS) contributed seven points and five boards in 15 minutes. The Lions’ bench, however, was outscored 20-11.
The Rams were led by Frederick. Averaging 26.7 ppg, the Lions managed to hold him to 21 on 8-of-18 shooting. He grabbed 11 boards. Griffin bagged 13 points and three reserves each accounted for six apiece.
Wesleyan led a see-saw first half, 27-25, in which six technical were assessed, four on the Rams.