Loss in finale filled with dramatic plot
Pilots sink SAGU winning streak, 80-74
LSUS ends game with 8-2 scoring run
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- It was a game that had a plot twist, where the expected outcome changed at the end. No. 7 ranked Southwestern Assemblies of God University men’s basketball team, riding a 17-game winning streak, fell to #19 LSU-Shreveport, 80-74, in each teams’ final regular season game.
The Lions had been wonderfully efficient in close games throughout the year. They were one of two teams nationally who had a perfect record (13-0) on the road. Until Monday.
Junior guard Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Okla. Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS) gave the Lions their last lead, 72-71, by bagging a pair of foul shots. He had made a steal thate led to his being fouled in the backcourt with 2:55 on the clock.
Rodney Milum, the Pilots’ #2 scorer in the nation (23.6 ppg), converted three free throws with 1:15 remaining to give the hosts a 75-72 lead they would not surrender.
Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Okla. Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School) answered with a basket when he beat the defense with a reverse layup to cut the deficit to a point with 0:59 on the clock.
Perhaps the critical moment of the game followed an LSUS time-out. It resulted in Brandon Davis converting a pass from Tevin Hall to give the River Pilots a 77-74 lead at 0:33. Hall had penetrated on a drive and pitched to a cutting Davis in a well-executed play.
Gentry, Jon Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS) and Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian) misfired on triples in the Lions’ final three possessions.
The Pilots salted away the win, their second of the year against SAGU, from the free throw stripe.
Talking about drama, the plot thickened throughout, as the lead changed hands 18 times and was tied on another 14 occasions.
“It was a hard-fought game,” admitted SAGU Head Coach Donnie Bostwick. “We had a chance at the end. There were a couple of tough calls, but those are normal challenges on the road.”
“We just came up short,” he concluded. “The free throw differential made it difficult, but we had a lead and had a chance to tie on Hondo's three.
“So we learn from it and move on.”
Well said. The loss took nothing away from the Lions’ regular season championship in the Red River Athletic Conference. The automatic berth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) tournament remains.
Next up, the RRAC tournament, and a chance to possibly improve their national seeding.
First Half Revisited
The season-ender was playing in front of a packed-out LSUS gym, known as The Dock. It was "Senior Night," with nine players finishing their careers in navy and gold.
The Lions twice built 10-point leads in the first half. The first came on baskets by Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS– following a steal by James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy), and a trifecta by Mo Oglesby (Arlington, Tx / Zion Academy) for a 17-7 advantage.
Minutes later the lead again swelled to ten, 27-17, on consecutive buckets for the purple and gold.
Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Connally HS) deposited a Rambo pass into the cylinder, preceding a bomb by Walter, on another Rambo assist. There was 7:08 on The Dock’s clock.
The Pilots answered with a 13-0 run on four baskets and two free throws. Mark Politte (PO-leet) finished the run with a three-ball following a SAGU turnover with 2:58 remaining.
The teams exchanged baskets until the Pilots made four free throws in the final twelve seconds for a 34-33 lead at the break.
The Lions outshot the Pilots, 41% to 33% in the half, led by a dozen from Walter. Nwelue (pronounced like DWELL-way) was tops in rebounds with seven.
Second Half Recollection
The second half witnessed more of the same; the lead volleying back and forth.
LSUS took a 52-48 lead on a score from Hall, before SAGU replied with a solid run.
Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark / Parkview HS) scored six points in a 12-3 run, the last two baskets coming on an offensive putback and a score that followed an assist from Gentry. The Lions led, 60-55, with 8:04 to play.
Down the stretch SAGU made 3-of-11 shots (2-of-8 beyond the arc), and swished 6-of-9 free throws. One of the misses was on the front end of a one-and-one.
LSUS was true on 4-of-8 shots (1-of-3 from long distance), but converted 16-of-18 from the charity stripe.
Twice in the closing minutes the Pilots’ Milum was fouled while attempting a three-pointer. He drained all six free throws, including the aforementioned triple from the line for the game-deciding lead.
SAGU made 27-of-65 shots (42%) while holding LSUS to 24-of-65 (37%). From long distance, the Lions had an 8-6 margin, though neither team lit it up from outside the arc.
The difference in the game was from the charity line, where the Pilots cashed in. They used 25 fouls on SAGU to make 26-of-31 free throws, while the Lions parlayed 17 fouls into 12-of-17.
Rebounding saw the Pilots own a 39-38 edge, 12-11 on the offensive glass. Turnovers were similar, with the Lions making 12 to the Pilots’ 11.
SAGU forced Milum (MY-lum) into an off-night from the field, making just 3-of-18 shots, including 2-of-13 tries from downtown. He was bailed out on the line, where his 86% proficiency led to a 14-of-14 effort.
Player Stats: Rambo leads NAIA in steals
Individually, the Lions had four players reach double figures; Rambo with 21, Walter 19, Gentry and Adoyi (ah-DOY) each tossing in 10. Walter nailed 5-of-9 treys before fouling out.
Nwelue led the charges on the boards with 10, with Adoyi grabbing seven.
Davis and Milum topped the Pilots with 23 and 22 points, combining to make 23-of-26 free throws. Rydell Harris latched onto 13 boards, with Davis claiming 11.
With three more steals, SAGU’s Rambo finished the season as the national leader in the category. He averaged 3.7 per game.
On deck for the Lions is the conference tournament, which SAGU will serve as host. They will open against Langston University in a Friday quarterfinal at 4:00pm.
The Lions defeated Langston twice, 84-73 in Oklahoma, then rallying at home to deny LU, 75-71 on January 28.
Coach Bostwick and Company will use the tourney to tune-up for the national stage, hopefully as a springboard.