Sweet 16 in a row
SAGU grinds out 95-88 thriller over OLLU
No. 7 ranked Lions can clinch title on Saturday
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- As Southwestern Assemblies of God University ground out a 95-88 triumph over Our Lady of the Lake University on Thursday night, one of the Lions’ goals was within sight.
The battle for their first-ever Red River Athletic Conference championship, played before a raucous Sheaffer Center crowd, assured the Lions of no worse than a share of the co-championship.
They need only a victory over Wiley College on Saturday or a loss by LSU-Shreveport against St. Thomas to clinch the title outright.
Winning the RRAC crown promises the team the #1 seed in next week’s conference tournament, which SAGU hosts, as well as a guarantee into the 32-team national tourney of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).
Should the Lions fail to defeat Wiley, along with the LSUS Pilots winning in Houston, the Red River title fight will come down to a winner-take-all game on Monday night in Shreveport. That game will start at 7:30pm at The Dock.
The win over the two-time defending RRAC champion Saints was a highly-charged contest between two very similar rivals.
Seemingly every shot was dared and confronted in an epic game of exchanged scoring runs.
Both teams were managed by head coaches who were able to get maximized production from their players with very different sideline styles.
SAGU’s Donnie Bostwick’s strategy is orchestrated as a hands-on mentor, while the fiery Russell Vanlandingham operates in a high-drama scheme that is equally effective.
It was like a chess match on steroids. Pong played at warp speed.
The score would be tied seven times and the lead changed hands on ten occasions. Much of the jockeying for position took place in the first half, when the Blue Halos maintained the lead while the Lions set the pace.
OLLU led by nine, 43-34, late in the half, before Southwestern scored the final five points of the stanza to trail by four.
Second Half Revisited
The Saints grabbed a 48-43 advantage in the opening moments of the second half when Eddie Ortiz gunned a three-pointer, thanks to an assist from Robert Martinez.
OLLU’s three-headed, long distant marksmen of Martinez, Ortiz and Lo’Ron Smith (all seniors) provide the nation’s top attack from the perimeter. The former entered the game atop the NAIA with 115 treys, while both Ortiz and Smith had 80 trifectas.
The Saints average just under 13 triples per game, most in all the land, while SAGU’s no. 26 ranked three-ball average of 7.4 pales in comparison.
Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School) and senior James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy) started the game with 50 and 38 threes.
Rambo launched one of his high-arching rainbows from the left edge of the top of the key over Ortiz, triggering a critical comeback by the Lions. A 13-6 surge regained the lead at 56-54 with 15:26 left in the game.
They would never surrender it the rest of the way.
While the Saints offer a bombs-away assault on offense, plus a fullcourt press the entire game, SAGU counters with the no. 3 ranked shooting defense in the NAIA. They allow opposing teams to make just 37% of their attempts.
They also make the fifth most steals. One of them proved pivotal.
A.J. Govan raced the ball downcourt for Our Lady. Guarded by Rambo, he cut to his left. That’s when Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS) left the man he was covering, Marcus Thompson, and snuck in behind Govan (GO-van).
“Hondo” reached in with his right hand to poke the ball towards the sideline. He tracked it down, narrowly avoided going out of bounds, then tightroped his way along the border and darted the distance for a layup to tie the game at 50. (It is one of the featured plays on the SSL highlight tape - previously cited)
Gentry then forced a turnover when he dove to tip the ball away, giving the Lions possession. Rambo dribbled between two defenders, thanks to a high pic from Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark / Parkview HS).
He penetrated the lane as Virgil Cissoko and Thompson converged, they left sophomore forward Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS) wide open on the right block.
The 6’5 'exclamation mark' personified, took a bounce pass and thundered a two-handed dunk to knot the score at 52.
A moment later he eschewed a pass to Guidry on the left, knifed between two Saints and jetted into the lane. As he appeared to be passing to the left, he swung the ball to his right and layed in a soft, right hook.
His outside shot not falling; the junior magician took to driving or setting up teammates with passes.
After stroking two free throws for a permanent 56-54 lead, the Lions called the for identical play that resulted in the Nwelue slam.
Instead of pitching to his right, ‘Bo zipped a pass to the left corner for Jon Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS).
He delivered a 3-ball from the side pocket for a 61-54 margin, capping an 18-6 run.
SAGU expanded their lead to lead to 14 at 76-62, thanks to a pair of technical fouls called on the Saints backcourt. Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian) converted four straight free throws in the process.
With Rambo out, seniors deliver
When Rambo drew his fourth personal foul with 9:35 remaining, SAGU led 78-67.
The Cats’ catalyst did not return until the 5:07 mark. During his absence the Lions held serve, an acute juncture in which the Saints went 2-of-7 from the floor and failed to capitalize.
In that stretch it was senior forward Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N. Texas, Connally HS) who rose to the forefront. The game’s top rebounder was as greedy as a fox in a henhouse, securing missed shots like a Venus flytrap.
Perhaps the biggest basket in the game came from the club’s other senior. Nursing an 82-76 lead, Ward reeled in a defensive carom and threw to Ford at midcourt.
“Truck” advanced the ball in transition toward the right wing. With Gentry open in the right corner and Guidry calling for the ball on the left, Ford had a better idea.
Seeing defenders retreating, he pulled up and canned a triple that helped keep the Halos at bay.
Following misses by Thompson and Smith, Ward and Walter claimed the boards. Guidry added a bucket when he drove the left side and backed in a left-handed, eight-foot leaner to give the hosts an 11-point lead (87-76).
Rambo re-entered the fray, though the Saints kept up the pressure. They drew to within 89-84 as Cissoko cashed in an offensive rebound and Govan converted a layup.
Throughout the Lions solid second half, they pushed the ball upcourt and attacked the paint. It resulted in numerous fouls; 36 against OLLU (they lead the nation with 26.7 per game). SAGU picked 26 fouls - without pressing.
SAGU could have put the game away from the charity stripe.
Uncharacteristically they missed 15 free throws in the second half.
The reason for their shaky performance on the foul line may well have been the lingering effects of the halftime “Harlem Shake” rendition in the student section.
It kept the Saints within striking distance. Even OLLU was less than stellar, misfiring on seven of 21 second-half free throws.
Following a pair of makes by Mike Brown that drew OLLU to within five as 1:53 was showing on the game clock, SAGU iced the game with back-to-back plays.
Guidry pulled in a Martinez miss on the right wing and spotted Ward alone on the right. He rambled to the rack between Thompson and Ortiz, but his layup rolled out and into the opening mitts of Nwelue.
Like a vulture, he cleaned up the spill with an offensive slam at 1:08.
On the Saints next trip up the floor, Thompson’s pass to Martinez, who came off of two baseline screens, was tipped and stolen by Rambo. He dashed three-quarters of the court for a 93-84 backbreaking lead to ice it.
The sweet win was SAGU’s sixteenth in succession, and elevated the team’s overall record to 25-3. At 18-2 in the RRAC, they own a two-game lead over LSU-Shreveport (21-5, 16-4 in RRAC) with two games to play.
Our Lady slipped to 18-12 and 14-8. The high-powered Saints, who have scored over 100 points nine times, finished the regular season by going 3-5.
Standout Performances by Players
Rambo led all scorers with a career-high 33 points. He netted 11 of 22 shots, including two triples (one in each half), to go along with 9-of-12 free throws and four assists.
The junior strengthened his NAIA lead in steals by collecting six more.
Four other players reached double-digits, keyed by Ward’s double-double of 10 points and 11 boards. He added four steals as well.
Nwelue scored 14, Guidry 13, Gentry 10 and Walter eight points.
Martinez paced the Saints with 26. The senior from Houston was 9-of-23 overall and 5-of-15 beyond the arc. Smith and Govan contributed 14 and 13 points respectively.
Difference-Making Team Stats
SAGU won the boards, 46-35, consisting of a 17-9 advantage on the offensive glass. Once they took the lead in the second half, the Lions were on the receiving end of 22 fouls.
The Lions made 35-of-55 free throws compared to the Saints’ 23-of-33.
Our Lady finished with 11 three-point field goals; SAGU had six.
The Lions, who made 34% of their shots in the opening half, connected on 50% in the second half for a 41% total. OLLU went 41% and 36% for a game average of 38%.
The teams could meet again the RRAC tournament semi-finals on Saturday, March 2.
OLLU still leads the series between the teams, 6-3, though SAGU has taken three of the past four meetings.
Saturday Home Finale at 4:00pm
The final home game of the regular season is on Saturday, February 23. The Lions will pay special tribute to their senior co-captains, James Ford and Duce Ward.
Following the 4:00pm game against Wiley College, the Athletic Department will host a special reception in the adjacent Mundt Room in honor of winning at least a share of the RRAC championship.
The game will be broadcast in HD by SAGU Sports Live. A webcast account of the game, on LiveStats, will also be provided for fans. Access for the latter is on the RRAC website by clicking on the icon under the Scoreboard column.
SAGU-vs-OLLU: Last Five Meetings
Total Points Scored:
SAGU 466 pts; 93.2 average
OLLU 448 pts; 89.6 avg.
SAGU 117 of 183, .639
OLLU 116 of 170, .682
In each game, the winning team has attempted more free throws. In SAGU’s three triumphs they have averaged 40 FTA (84-of-120). OLLU has averaged 45.2 FTA (62-of-91) in their two wins.