Lions roar into January
Huge home clash vs. UST this Saturday
Sixteen games remain, nine at home
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The Southwestern Assemblies of God University men’s basketball team hopes to begin the second half of the season by adding to their momentous December finish.
If knocking off no. 12 Texas Wesleyan University on the road on December 17 was a perfect capper for the first two months, the Lions have an eye-opener to start the first of 16 second half contests.
This Saturday, January 5, SAGU plays host to a team of their equal in both the Red River Athletic Conference as well as with their overall record in the loss column.
The University of St. Thomas is 4-2 in the RRAC and 8-3 in all games, comparing favorably to the Lions’ 6-2 and 11-3 marks. Last season they tied for fourth.
The contest figures to be a low scoring, physical battle. The Celts and Lions have the league's top two scoring defenses.
The afternoon game commences at 4:00pm and will be aired by SAGU Sports Live in high definition. Fans can access the free broadcast at www.sagu.edu/tv
The pre-game show begins fifteen minutes prior to the tip-off. Rob Price will serve as host, with Tim Roberts handling the color analyst role. Bianca Alarcon will be the courtside reporter.
St. Thomas, who also whipped Texas Wesleyan on the road, 78-70, has lost only to no. 24 Texas College (12-2) in a 53-50 decision, at no. 7 Our Lady of the Lake, 83-76, and to no. 4 Rogers State University (12-2), 63-62.
Local SAGU fans are urged to attend and help provide home court advantage for a game that will be played prior to the return of students for the spring semester. It is also the Lions only home date until they host Bacone College on Jan. 26.
The Lions dropped three home games prior to the holidays. Westmont College (Cal), no. 5 in the NAIA, edged SAGU in overtime, 69-65. No. 24 Texas College (12-2) held off the Lions, 71-58, and LSU-Shreveport (7-3) topped the ‘Cats, 92-64.
A year ago the Purple Pride lost just three times all season, so defending the domestic domain is critical for Head Coach Donnie Bostwick’s club.
Defense, desire and depth
The assets that label this team are deep as hip pockets on a giraffe. Most of them relate to defense and desire. Not necessarily in that order.
The no. 28 ranked Lions’ success is predicated on a deep bench of offensive and defensive playmakers, each playing defined roles that collectively make SAGU a team to be reckoned with.
Playing the best field goal defense in the Red River Athletic Conference also ranks no. 4 in the nation. Opposing shooters are making only .375 of their attempts and, beyond the arc, are connecting on just .313.
While fans cheer for three-point baskets, and the Lions are knocking them down at a rate of 7.3 per game – that is no. 31 in the NAIA (the team ranked #3 a year ago by making 9.8 treys per game), next to defense, this team thrives on crashing the offensive boards.
The extra possessions and shots gained from retaining control of the ball with rebounds energize this team.
SAGU is fifth in the NAIA in offensive caroms, averaging 15.7 per game. An anomaly? Last winter they were sixth at 15.6. Two years ago the team was 79th.
Another forte of the Purple and Gold is their knack for stealing the ball. The squad’s quickness benefits them in collecting 10.2 thefts per outing. They appear at #17 on the NAIA ratings in this statistic.
Hustle points in two other areas also define the Lions. Both reveal the team’s hunger for sole custody of the ball.
Those added means are each viewed as sacrificial; going after loose balls and draw charging calls against the opposition. A new team sponsor, Chili's, will award fans when the Lions collect five charging violations.
Purple Pride has 4 scoring in double-digits
SAGU has begun to overcome early season shooting woes. The line-up, which had bouts with inconsistency at guard, (the team had to replace two starters in the backcourt, including Ronald Horne [Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Waco HS]), has started to mesh.
A key ingredient has been the activation of senior forward Nathaniel Ward (Waco, Tx / Connally HS). The 6-foot-5 “Duce” led the NAIA in rebounding as a sophomore.
His addition gives the squad a defensive catalyst, a slashing style on offense, along with an improved perimeter shot. He is a proven 70% free throw threat.
Ward is averaging 10 points per game and will provide another solid rebounder.
The cog in the Lions’ wheel, however, remains junior point guard Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School).
His scoring is slightly down, 17.1 to 15.5, but the team now has four players scoring in double figures, twice their total during last year’s 27-11 season.
Rambo leads the team in free throws attempted, assists, and steals. His propensity for delivering plays in the clutch continues, though he is working in tandem with others when the situation calls for a defensive stop or offensive rally.
James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy) has been SAGU’s version of Rise of the Guardians. The senior wing is scoring at an 11.2 ppg clip and is tops in treys.
Among the top eight scorers, he is one of six that are making over 70% of their free throws. His 46% overall shooting stroke is second best on the club.
Another emerging player is sophomore post Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS). The 6’5 center is netting 11.1 ppg and 7.4 rebounds, the latter coming in at 39th in the NAIA.
Nwelue (like DWELL-way) has nearly doubled his points and boards and is playing less than seven minutes more than last season.
Junior guard Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS), sophomore wing Jonathan Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS) and a pair of freshmen; Devante Dunn (Wills Point, Tx / Wills Point HS) and Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark / Parkview HS) round out the Lions top eight in scoring.
Gentry, SAGU’s best from the foul line (87%), and Walter, who is second in rebounds (5.7 rpg), each account for 7.9 ppg.
Dunn, a guard, currently owns the highest accuracy from long distance (40%) while Adoyi (pronounced like a-Boy), a forward, is third in boards (5.3 rpg). Both are credited with over 5 ppg.
Speedy sophomore guard Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian), a cagey left-hander, has a flair for making things happen on both ends of the court.
Regular contributors in Coach Bostwick’s three rotation shifts include Justas Norvilas (Taurage, Lithuania / Versmes), fan favorite Clayton O’Neill (Hallettsville, Tx / Hallettsville HS), Ryan Alford (Dayton, Tx / Dayton HS) and Mo Oglesby (Arlington, Tx / Zion Academy) are utilized role players.
Alford, a 6’8 freshman, has been called upon often in recent weeks, and his presence has brought positive results.
Contending for the RRAC championship and an NAIA berth
After playing St. Thomas on Saturday, the Lions will take to the road for five consecutive contests. They do not return to the Sheaffer Center for three weeks when they host Bacone College on Saturday, Jan. 26.
The Lions are currently in third place in the RRAC. Last season the Jungle Kings went 16-8 against teams in the league, tied for fourth with St. Thomas.
A year ago the NAIA selected just three teams from the Red River, awarding each with a berth in the 32-team national tournament; OLLU, LSU-Shreveport and Wesleyan.
SAGU must stay in the top three to have any real chance at earning their second invitation in the NAIA’s big dance.
There are presently four teams ranked nationally, and two others; Our Lady of the Lake University and LSU-Shreveport, who finished 1-2 last season, have been ranked earlier in the season.
The Lions have 16 games to go. Eleven of the sixteen are against teams with winning records, making the nine remaining home dates very significant.
All remaining home games will be livestreamed in HD, something only one school in the NAIA offers; SAGU.