Lions top Wiley, clinch RRAC title
Seniors Ward and Ford honored
Three-pointers, dunks punctuate epic win
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- A season after the nation’s largest turnaround in college basketball, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University men’s team, picked to finish third in the pre-season coaches poll, made their mark in the Red River Athletic Conference this year.
Behind the senior leadership of Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Connally HS) and James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy), the Lions rolled past Wiley College, 86-67, on Saturday to clinch their first-ever RRAC championship. Some encore.
SAGU, ranked no. 7 in the NAIA, extended their winning streak to 17 while raising their overall record to 26-3.
They have a 19-2 ledger in the RRAC, three games ahead of both LSU-Shreveport (21-6, 16-5 in RRAC) and St. Thomas (23-6, 16-5).
Wiley has one game to go, their own Senior Night, against St. Thomas. The Wildcats are 15-14 and could face SAGU again in the Red River quarterfinals on Friday at 4:00pm.
The Lions have one regular season game remaining. On Monday, February 25, they travel 205 miles east to face LSUS at The Dock. The tipoff is at 7:30pm (CST).
By winning the conference crown the Jungle Kings receive an automatic berth in next month’s NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
Whoever wins next week’s RRAC tourney, hosted at SAGU (March 1-2, 4) will also be guaranteed of a spot in the 32-team playoff field. The entire event will take place at KC's Municipal Auditorium during March 13-19.
To win the NAIA title, a team must win five games in six days. It is considered the toughest basketball tournament anywhere due to both the competition and the lack of recovery time.
For second year Head Coach Donnie Bostwick, however, it’s a case of first things first.
“We are excited about reaching one of our goals,” he said, “but right now we are focusing on LSUS and getting better on our way to KC.”
The Lions needed one win in their final two games or a loss by LSUS to nail down the championship. They got both at the same time; taming the Wildcats while the Pilots were sunk in Houston by St. Thomas, 83-76.
Playing in front of another vociferous crowd, the Lions steadily pulled away from a 31-30 first half lead en route to building a 74-52 advantage.
Both teams secured the ball well in spite of serious defensive pressure, the Lions coughing up possession just ten times – only three in the second half. Wiley had fifteen.
Held to 23-of-62 (37%) shooting, the Wildcats stayed in the game by drawing just 10 fouls. SAGU was whistled for 19 citations. It resulted in Wiley going 19-of-28 from the free throw line while the hosts were only 7-of-10.
Southwestern countered with a playing style best described as hungry and with a spirit of inevitability.
Making numerous big plays, primarily three-point baskets and dunks, on this night the Lions would not be denied.
When they met in East Texas on January 24, SAGU connected on only three triples and hung on for a 74-72 triumph. Ward and Ford were limited to four points apiece.
Barrage of Threes Bury Wildcats
Saturday saw the Lions unleash 15 threes, second only to the 16 they made at Jarvis Christian College. Just seven times this season they have reached double figures in 3-balls after doing it 20 times in 2012.
The firepower, however, has always been available.
Against Wiley, eleven different players found the range from long distance. Jon Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS) ripped the nets on three occasions, with Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian) and Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Okla. Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS) each bagging a pair.
While the bomb squad supplied the thunder, it was Ward and Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS) who threw down the lightning with scattered dunks.
Playing like Rocky Balboa, who was told by his trainer (Mickey Goldmill) he would eat lightning and spit nails, Ward and Nwelue hammered points home.
SAGU played cohesively, distributing the ball to allocate shots for those in the best position to execute.
In the end, Ward came out shining on Senior Night. He finished with 15 points on six-of-ten shooting.
He scored seven points in less than three minutes to give SAGU a 49-39 lead. The former NAIA rebounding champion (as a sophomore) stroked a mid-range jump shot along the end line, then took a pass from Rambo and drained a high-arching trey from the top of the key.
Ward is the son of the late Nathaniel Ward. He goes by Duce (rather than deuce, meaning #2) instead of Junior, in honor of his dad. His father would have been proud.
Ward then made a rain-maker from deep in the corner to give the Lions a double-digit lead. His tip-in pushed the lead to 61-46.
Against fullcourt pressure, he took a pass from Nwelue and outraced the Wildcats to the rack for a layup at the 10:51 mark and a 63-48 advantage.
What followed was a salvo of trifectas.
While Wiley answered each with some impressive plays – many by guard Vanderis Christie (21 points), the Lions’ 10 second half treys did the damage.
Ford assisted on one by Gentry from the right side at 9:25, and then Walter dished dimes on a troika of 3-balls. Guidry knocked down one from the corner, and then added another from the wing on the next possession for a 22-point lead.
After Gentry’s triple hit nothing but nylon, Coach Bostwick emptied the bench with a 77-57 upper-hand and over three minutes to go.
SAGU had 12 threes at the time, and the crowd was clamoring for more.
The Waxahachie Buffalo Wild Wings awards fans with six free wings (with a purchase) when the Lions make 14 trifectas at a home game.
Lithuanian Justas Norvilas (Taurage, Lithuania / Versmes), a 6’6 freshman, made #13 after catching a pass from Adam Martinez (Mansfield, Tx / Mansfield HS). Team Purple led, 80-69, with 2:20 left on the clock.
Martinez assisted on the hunger-quenching three-ball from the right wing by Reid Brunner (Halletsville, Tx / Halletsville HS) at 1:05.
The Jungle student section – where sitting is not allowed during play, cheered and salivated.
For good measure, Martinez spotted 6'5 Ben Starks (Austin, Tx / Southeastern CC, Bryan HS) on the left edge. His bid for #15 was true with 40 seconds showing on the clock.
Walter supported Ward’s 15, with 13 points and three steals, while Rambo was content with 10. The latter added five rebounds, five assists and swiped a pair.
Gentry and Nwelue (pronounced like DWELL-way) were credited with eight points. Nwelue contributed four assists and blocked two shots.
During the pivotal second half, the Lions made 51% of their shots and 10-of-18 from beyond the arc. Wiley connected on 32% of their shots after intermission. From the foul line, SAGU was 1-of-3 while the Wildcats were 11-of-17.
Senior Moment for Ward and Ford
The game belonged to a team that has achieved more together than they could by the sum of their parts. And, on the night in which the team was crowned, it was fitting that two senior leaders were in the spotlight.
“Senior Night is always a special day for our Coaching Staff,” Bostwick explained. “We have sowed much into these young men. To see them already blossoming as leaders and men of God is so meaningful.”
“The win is just a byproduct of the men they have become,” he continued. “It’s revealed in the leadership they bring into the locker room, in our devotions, in our worship, and on the floor.”
“I am so proud of Duce and Truck. They are two very humble young men who have a heart for the King.”
As for the game, Coach Bostwick pointed to a senior.
“The key to pulling away began with Duce taking over the game at the beginning of the second half. He was extraordinary and he fueled the crowd,” he said.
“Then our defense tightened up and the momentum led to everyone taking their game to another level. It was also nice to finally get some wings for the students.”
“They act like they were starving,” he added, “so we were glad to help them out.”
SAGU hoopsters, famished for so long, were also satiated.
Wonder what’s for dessert?
PHOTO GALLERY: Visit the Moving Pictures website for an array of photographs to view and/or purchase. There are currently 162 pictures of the SAGU-Wiley men's game, 75 of the women's game and another 74 of the post-game festivities and net-cutting ceremony.
Plus, there are 180 photos of the women's game against Our Lady of the Lake from Thursday, along with 166 from the men's game.
Steve Patterson is the photographer at www.movingpictures.photoreflect.com