Lions edge Celts, 53-48, on the road
Trailing 40-33, Rambo sparks 'Mayhem'
Offensive rebounding is the difference
HOUSTON, Texas -- Two of the top five defensive units in the nation fought toe-to-toe on Saturday at the Jerabeck Athletic & Activities Center. The results were not surprising as every possession seemed to end in a well-contested shot.
No. 13 ranked Southwestern Assemblies of God University, put their 12-0 road record on the line against the nationally ranked University of St. Thomas, whose 10-1 home record was the best in the Red River Athletic Conference.
SAGU overcame a late seven-point deficit and 26% shooting to get past a very strong St. Thomas team, 53-48. In a game that could have gone either way, the feel of post-season pressure was evident.
The Lions upped their season mark to 23-3 while maintaining their view from the catbird seat of the RRAC at 17-2. It was SAGU’s 14th consecutive triumph.
No. 22 LSU-Shreveport (18-4, 13-3 in RRAC) won their seventh in a row, routing Huston-Tillotson University, 97-77, and remain one game behind in the loss column.
The two will meet at The Dock to end the regular season on February 25. It will likely decide the championship. The Pilots routed the Lions in their first meeting in Waxahachie, so LSUS owns the tie-breaker.
As for St. Thomas (18-6, 13-5 in RRAC), they remain in contention, though five of their final six games are on the road.
Saturday’s bout was played like the main event, the top card, at a heavyweight match.
Though not an overly physical war, the athletically agile teams displayed defensive fundamentals that can shut down high-octane offenses.
SAGU Head Coach Donnie Bostwick likened the atmosphere to an NAIA playoff game.
“It was like a playoff,” he said afterward. “Two very tough defensive teams that competed hard for the entire 40 minutes.”
“They are incredibly well-coached and have a great leader at point guard,” Bostwick said of UST’s coach Todd Smith and senior PG Travis Lampley. The latter tops the NAIA in assists per game (9.75).
For the Lions, it was a familiar script with a happy ending.
Trailing 40-33 with 10:32 remaining, the Lions came roaring out of a time-out. The predictable catalyst was junior guard Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School).
To opponents, Rambo is akin to the Allstate Insurance “Mayhem” character.
Dean Winters plays the Mayhem part, a throwback to a kind of ad character that was once hugely popular: the bad guy who causes problems that the product being advertised solves."
He (Rambo) began making things happen on both ends of the floor, un-doing the Celts’ hard-fought, well-earned lead.
UST’s Coach Smith’s first comment about the game was that “Rambo had 13 points in the second half.” He was held to just three in the opening stanza.
Rambo spurred the team to ten unanswered points including a three-pointer to tie it at 40. The run ended with Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N. Texas, Connally HS) converting an old-fashioned three-point play to give the Purple Pride a 43-40 lead.
Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS) drove the middle and dished a bounce pass between two defenders to Duce on the left baseline. The sinewy 6’5 senior went up, then shifted to the right side of the rim to avoid getting his shot blocked. As he was knocked to the floor he banked in a reverse layup.
The teams then exchanged baskets. Tied at 44-all with 3:42 to go, a defensive board by Ward led to a Gentry field goal.
Reversing the ball in search of a good shot, “Hondo saw a crease in the lane from the right wing,” recalls Bostwick. “He attacked the basket and scored at the rim in traffic.”
Lampley got the equalizer with a blitz through the paint, tying the game for the twelfth and final time; 46-46 at 3:22.
Rambo missed a shot, then grabbed the rebound for another chance. The possession set up an interior drive by Gentry. His shot was blocked by 6'6 Henoc Jean, though it drew a foul call.
“Hondo,” the team leader in free throw accuracy (.846), canned a pair for a 48-46 at 2:36.
Enter: Rambo's Mayhem
Rambo swiped the ball from Lampley and parlayed his good fortune into a breakaway deuce with 2:10 showing on the clock. The Lions led, 50-46, and had outscored UST 17-6 since the 10:32 mark.
Following a St. Thomas timeout, 6'5 Caleb Williams cashed in a Bryan Kaase (KAH-see) dime at 1:53 to draw the Celts to within 50-48.
Protecting the lead, Team Purp worked the clock until Jon Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS) got a shot. His try went begging, momentarily, until Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS) clutched the carom.
"Nwelue (like DWELL-way) had a big offensive rebound with about a minute left,” pointed out Coach Smith. “He was fouled and his free throw added to the Lions two-point lead.”
Perhaps the most definitive statistic in the clash of defensive titans was offensive rebounds. They are one of SAGU’s signature staples, ranking #3 in the NAIA (15.6 per game).
Smith referred to just that when he mentioned that Nwelue collected five of his six rebounds on the offensive glass.
“That was the key difference,” lamented Smith. The Lions held a 47-42 edge on the boards, though their 16-8 margin on offense was mammoth in this game.
Nwelue split a pair of free throws for a 51-48 advantage at 1:14.
The Celts’ Adrian Morales misfired on a jumper, and, following an offensive board by Kaase, Morales’ bid for a tying trifecta also missed.
A final shot by Lampley was blocked by Walter before Gentry sealed the deal with two from the charity stripe in the closing five seconds.
“Our guys played like one who finishes strong,” added Bostwick.
Lions' M.O. - Winning at the Wire
True. SAGU’s winning streak has included 10 games that were won by 10-points or less. Developing toughness for such situations has fueled this team.
Both teams defended very well, according to Smith, which “…caused some horrendous shooting” numbers, he said. The Lions finished at 26% (16-of-62) to 31% (17-of-54) for UST.
The effort against the home team was remarkable considering they had shot the lights out just two days earlier in an 89-48 rout of Our Lady of the Lake University.
The Celts shot 64% for the game and drained 11 treys in the process. UST held the Halos (who led the NAIA in threes per game at 12.4) to 4-of-28 from long distance.
Predictably, beyond the arc on Saturday was no walk in the park. SAGU hit 16% (3-of-19), UST 23% (4-of-17). On the foul line the Lions made 18-of-25 compared to the Celts' 10-of-14.
Nationally, SAGU ranks third in field goal defense, holding opposing shooters to .377 accuracy. St. Thomas is fifth at .382.
The Celts, who had won five in a row at the “Jack,” had the league’s best record (10-1) at home. Their only other loss was 53-50 to Texas College in December.
Rambo and Gentry tallied 16 and 15 points respectively. The duo racked up seven and five assists, while Rambo was also credited with four steals.
Walter added seven points and a team high nine boards. Ward notched eight rebounds despite foul woes. Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark / Parkview HS) contributed four boards, blocked two shots and nailed a three-pointer.
Lampley tossed in 14 points and bagged nine assists while Kaase and Williams each scored 12 and claimed 10 rebounds apiece.
The halftime score was tied at 23.
Next Game: Saturday at home vs PQC Tigers
SAGU returns to the court on Saturday when they welcome Paul Quinn College to the Sheaffer Center for a 4:00pm contest. The game will be broadcast in HD by SAGU Sports Live.
It begins a three-game homestand against PQC, OLLU and Wiley College. The regular season concludes at LSUS.
The top eight teams receive a bid for the 2013 RRAC tournament, March 1,2 and 4, here at SAGU.