Lions drop overtime thriller, 69-65
Westmont forces OT with late 3-ball
Ranked teams trade scoring surges, big plays
View 258 game photos (directions below)
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- It was only fitting that a game between a pair of nationally ranked men’s basketball teams require overtime to determine the outcome.
Southwestern Assemblies of God University (4-1), who came within seconds of winning in regulation, finished on the wrong end of a 69-65 decision against Westmont College (6-1) on Saturday night at the Sheaffer Center.
The veteran Warriors, ranked #8 in the NAIA’s Pre-Season Coaches Poll, accustomed to the national spotlight, escaped town with a victory that included great drama, huge plays and a local storyline.
Ranked #26 entering the season, SAGU, is rapidly earning respect as a player at this level. They narrowly allowed a win slip away on a late three-point basket that sent the game into an extra five minutes.
The overtime saw the Lions take the lead three times only to watch Westmont make eight straight, pressure-packed free throws to take a 66-64 lead with 1:07 remaining.
SAGU had their chances, but missed two foul shots with the game on the line.
Westmont, who led the nation in free throw accuracy last season, netted 14 consecutive from the charity stripe late in regulation and in overtime to eke out a win on the road.
Senior Moment: It came to a pass
The Warriors are from Santa Barbara, California. They scheduled the game against SAGU in tribute to their 6'3 senior guard, Preston Branson, and NAIA Second Team All-American.
A Dallas native, he played his prep career at Trinity Christian School in Addison. Branson didn’t disappoint area fans who came to cheer for him and his team.
He led the maroon-cladded team in scoring (18-points), though it was a pass he made that saved the day.
Trailing the Lions, 56-53, Branson and his teammates frantically searched for an open shot on the perimeter in the remaining twenty-six seconds. Covered like flypaper, none were found.
Finally, Branson split two defenders and drove towards the right elbow of the key, then spotted Niko Sachs on the left wing. He zipped the ball to his senior backcourt partner.
Sachs (pronounced like SAX) triggered a triple that ripped the nets and SAGU hearts, forcing overtime.
“I was just looking for whoever was open,” Branson said after the game. “When I drove they collapsed on me, and Niko (NEE-koh) was wide open.”
“He had ice-water in his veins,” he said of Sach’s cool delivery in the clutch. It was the play of the game.
Lions take three overtime leads
The Lions made three baskets for leads of 58-56, 60-58 and 63-60, each answered by the Warriors.
Sophomore Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS) flipped a pass to a cutting Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark) for a power layup. Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School) lifted a rainbow over two players from the baseline and was knocked to the wall, though no foul was indicated.
Branson leveled the score at 60 with two FT’s before Rambo fired a high-arcing trifecta from the left for a three-point advantage with 2:15 remaining. The trey came on Caleb Gentry’s (Hondo, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS) fifth assist.
The Lions, however, would not get another basket, missing their final four attempts.
As they did in the final five minutes of regulation, the Lions struggled to extend a lead, each time watching the guests reply with an equallizer.
Branson gave his team a 64-63 upperhand on two foul shots at 1:46. SAGU knotted the score when Adoyi (like A toy), halved a pair at the 1:23 mark.
Cooper Damron, a senior forward who scored eight points in overtime, four from the stripe, wristed two for a 66-64 advantage they would not surrender.
Rambo made one of two to draw the Lions within 66-65 with 0:52 to play.
Branson got away with what appeared to be an obvious carry at midcourt.
The non-call caught the eye and drew the audible response from every 'official' in the gym except the ones who are paid.
A moment later he passed to Sachs, who connected inside to a slashing Damron near the right block. His layup gave Westmont a 68-65 lead.
It set the stage for the Lions to replicate the Warriors desperation bid for a three-point basket.
Busy as a pointer at a duck farm, Westmont tailed every player near the arc. Rambo was covered like a press conference.
Still, he managed to locate Jonathan Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS) near the top. His try was on target, but long, bouncing back to where Gentry came away with the offensive carom.
The junior transfer had 78 triples in his two prior seasons. He looked for someone open while moving back of the line. As the clock neared its final zero, Gentry let fly his own proposal. It went begging as it bounded off the rim.
Westmont’s Mantas Drungys (DRUHN-gees), a junior from London, grabbed the rebound with less a second remaining. He made the first of two free throws to end the scoring and a game that was as exciting as five rattlers in a conoe.
Inside the Game
The Lions played without senior guard James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy), this season’s best treat from long distance. He was attending a family funeral.
Ford averages 15.0 points per game, has sunk 64% of his shots, including 10-of-18 beyond the arc.
His absence was felt, as SAGU connected on just 5-of-24 shots (21%) outside the curve. In fact, the team was held to 35% shooting overall.
Both teams made 22 baskets, with SAGU getting 62 attempts, 22 more than the Warriors.
Westmont had a keen eye from the outset, connecting on 54%, a precision that proved critical.
The Lions had a 12-4 advantage in offensive rebounds, and forced a whopping 29 turnovers, almost twice Westmont's average. They had 19 turnovers after halftime. Branson was squeezed for seven.
SAGU committed only 13 miscues, eight after intermission.
The difference in the game was Westmont’s hot hand beyond the arch and their regular proficiency on the line. They were 9-of-21 (43%) from downtown and 16-of-19 (84%) from the charity stripe.
The Warriors entered the game averaging just 4.3 triples per game. “We have struggled from there so far this season,” Branson pointed out. Even a year ago, the team was seventh in the Golden State Athletic Conference with 5.8 threes per game.
Free throws, however, are a staple in their attack. They led all of the NAIA’s 117 Division I schools with a collective .743 rightness. On Saturday it was the X factor.
SAGU swished 16-of-24 (67%), which was slightly above their 64% season average. Even during last year’s 27 wins, the Lions connected on 62%, ranking 105th.
In the final five minutes of regulation, in which the Purple Pride held a 49-46 lead, along with the five minute overtime, Westmont outscored SAGU 23-14. Both teams made just four baskets; SAGU had one trey, Westmont two, in the 10 minutes.
On the line, SAGU was 7-of-10, while Westmont was 13-of-15. The guests had an 8-5 edge in calls down the stretch, not always likely on the road.
Rally 'Cats storm back from 17-point deficit
Lost in the thrilling finish was an impressive comeback by the Lions.
Cold out of the shoot, they fell behind by 17-points. During a 15-0 run, Westmont needed asbestos gloves.
C.J. Miller, a 6’7 junior averaging 16.8 points per game, drilled a pair of threes and poured in all 10 of his points during the surge. It allowed the Warriors to extend an 11-9 lead to 26-9 halfway through the first half. He was held scoreless the rest of the game.
The Lions regrouped behind solid play inside. Six-foot-eight freshman Ryan Alford (Dayton, Tx / Dayton HS) came off the bench and powered in a layup, Adoyi stroked a 15-foot jumper and Devante Dunn (Wills Point, Tx / Wills Point HS) added seven points in just over three minutes.
Twice he muscled in an offensive stickback, one on a spin move under the rim. Rambo assisted a Gentry triple to pull SAGU to within 36-26 at recess.
Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian), a sophomore guard, infused the offense early in the second half.
He assisted baskets by Adoyi and Rambo during a 9-4 start as SAGU sliced their deficit to 40-35.
Guidry dashed the length of the court following a steal, ending in a contested finger-roll layup that sparked a 12-0 run by the home team.
He then had a hand in a play that brought the game and the crowd to life. Literally.
On defense, he reached in to deflect the ball to Adoyi, who, in turn, hit Rambo in stride, in transition. Rambo is as fast as a jackrabbit in front of a prairie fire!
The faux-hawked junior was the 'real deal' on a layup, in traffic, that he parlayed into a 3-point play. His free throw at the 6:53 mark had the Lions roaring. They trailed 46-40, though Momentum was in the changing room being fitted in purple.
A moment later Guidry fed Rambo, who zoomed inside for another three-point play, this one ending on a scoop shot.
Walters drained a triple from the right side, courtesy of a Rambo helper, knotting the score.
Gentry assisted as Rambo knocked down a trifecta from the same spot for the lead, 49-46 (4:42).
Down the stretch the Lions let several opportunities to add to their lead go awry; a missed runner following an offensive round, a shot clock violation, a missed layup after a steal, and a wide open 12-foot jump shot – all in the closing four minutes of regulation.
Leading by a bucket in OT, SAGU had an apparent layup by Adoyi negated on a questionable traveling call, and two no-calls in became large when Westmont finished with a 9-2 run in their 69-65 win.
SAGU Player Statistics
Rambo led all scorers with 21-points, and collected four steals. Dunn tossed in 10 points in 18 minutes off the bench, including six-of-seven from the foul line.
Gentry added nine points while distributing four assists. He bagged a game-best six steals. Walter, who also bucketed nine points, and Gentry each had a triple during regulation.
Adoyi and Nwelue both accounted for seven points. Adoyi had three steals, while Nwelue (like DWELL-way), in a game titled the Turkey Jam, had the contest's only dunk. Adoyi flipped a pass as he stormed the lane for a two-fisted slam that gave SAGU a 6-5 lead less than three minutes into the game.
Moving Pictures: To view and/or to purchase between 258 photos from the SAGU vs Westmont game, go to Steve Patterson's website at www.movingpictures.photoreflect.com