Lions tamed by Celts in final, 67-51
Cold-shooting hinders SAGU
Team awaits NAIA tourney itinerary
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- Unable to match their offensive touch from two days prior, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University men’s basketball team came up short, 67-51, to the University of St. Thomas in the Red River Athletic Conference tournament final on Monday evening.
The setback dropped the Lions to 29-4 on the season. Their previous best record was 27-7 in the 1980's on a team coached by Terry Bryan.
A year ago SAGU experienced the nation's largest turnaround, rising from 12-21 to 27-11.
The game saw the lead change hands on six occasions, all before intermission. The Celts moved ahead late in the first half and were never seriously threatened thereafter.
St. Thomas, now 28-5 overall, finished on a 10-1 run to take a 32-28 advantage into the locker room. From just right of the top of the key, Deric Dudley caught a pass from Travis Lampley and fired a three-pointer at the buzzer for a huge momentum boost.
When Lampley scored to complete a 10-2 burst, the Celts were in command at 44-34 with 14:05 to play. The closest the Lions came the rest of the way was eight points.
Playing in front of their largest crowd of the season inside a packed Sheaffer Center, the Lions connected on two quick three-point baskets by junior guards Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Okla. Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS) and Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Ok. Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School) for an 8-4 lead.
After the Celts responded with ten unanswered points, the teams wrestled with the lead.
Trailing 17-11, the Lions assembled their best stretch of play of the night.
Rambo netted a mid-range shot a moment before an inbounds play that was as well executed as it was fast. Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Connally HS) was near the sideline, having received a pass.
The 6’5 senior looked to his left and whipped the ball to Jon Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS), who was cutting along the far baseline towards Ward. He caught the ball on the low block, and then pivoted around a defender for a layup.
SAGU then drained four straight long-balls, three of them by the left-handed Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian).
From the high post, Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark / Parkview HS) spotted Guidry at the top of the key. The sophomore stopped and popped a trey.
A moment later, following Adoyi’s (pronounced like ‘a boy’) rejection of a Lampley shot in the lane, Guidry completed a pass to Walter on the left wing. His trifecta was smooth and true for a 21-20 lead.
Caleb Williams got inside for a score for the Celts, then Guidry unloaded back-to-back jacks, the first from the right side, the second from the left on a dish from James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy).
SAGU led 27-22 with just over five minutes remaining in the half.
St. Thomas called a timeout to adjust their defense, and, evidently, vice-grips were involved. The Lions would not score another basket until the second half.
The red-clad visitors replied with seven points; a reverse layup by forward Brian Kaase (KAH-see), a drive by Lampley and a Kaase baseline jumper for the lead, 29-27. That set the stage for Dudley's aforementioned, buzzer-beating triple.
Second Half Revisited
The Celts stepped up their man-to-man defense, which switched to double-teams in the lane, proving as effective as the Lions shooters were cold.
With a home crowd pleading for transition to a higher gear, SAGU missed or rushed many open shots, even while remaining within proximity of the lead.
St. Thomas, led by Lampley, the nation’s leader in assists, and the constricting of Dudley’s defense on Lion guards, maintained an eight-to-twelve point lead until pulling away in the closing minutes.
Trying to rouse a rally, Walter knocked down two shots; the latter a triple from the corner on a Rambo pass, SAGU trailed 57-48.
While officials only called seven fouls against the guests the entire game, two charging calls on SAGU were especially critical.
Rambo pierced the defense and layed the ball off for a basket, only to have Dudley draw the charge on a questionable whistle. Ward was cited for a similar citation on a drive along the line two minutes later.
Dudley answered with a wrap-around pass to Williams and Kaase sank an outside jumper to keep the regular-season champions at bay.
SAGU’s last score was a Rambo 3-ball from the left crook to cut the deficit to 61-51. UST salted away the victory from the foul line.
The win was sweet for the Celts, who lost a pair of tough decisions to SAGU earlier this year, 78-73 in Waxahachie, and 53-48 in Houston.
Coach Bostwick's post-game comments
“I tip my hat to St. Thomas,” acknowledged SAGU Head Coach Donnie Bostwick. “They have a terrific team and a great coach (Todd Smith).”
“Coming here, against our crowd, and winning is an impressive accomplishment.”
“In my opinion, when our guys won in Houston (February 9),” he added, “that was the deciding game that won the conference regular season title. I felt that was an equally amazing accomplishment.”
St. Thomas made 26-of-55 (47%) of their shots on Monday while limiting the Lions to 19-of-68 (28%) accuracy.
“They (St. Thomas) were just a little more focused and shot it better tonight,” Bostwick continued. “We could not even hit an ‘open look’ tonight.”
“They kept us off the glass as well,” he said of the Celts’ 36-33 rebounding edge.
“They came into the tournament knowing they had to make the final to get to KC (site of the NAIA’s 32-team national tournament). That focus carried over to tonight.”
“St. Thomas took away our easy baskets and we will learn from this. It won't happen again this season,” Bostwick pointed out. “I believe this will make us stronger and may just give us our chance to do something special in KC.”
UST Head Coach Todd Smith:
As for the victorious Celts’ coach Smith, “We wanted to come out and score early, because SAGU plays defense so well. When we got a few shots to fall (leading 14-8), it really allowed us to relax.”
“On the other end (on defense), we wanted to make them shoot contested threes and jumpshots.”
The fourth year Head Coach spoke of how much it benefitted his team to hold their own on the boards, “since we’re not that big,” and gave props to Dudley for his exceptional defense against ballhandlers.
While Williams led the Celts in scoring with 16 points, it was the play of Lampley, their point guard and floor leader that was most commendable.
He scored 12 points, distributed eight assists and grabbed eight rebounds. The senior logged all forty minutes of playing time and made just three turnovers.
Adrian Morales, who had struggled in the previous games against SAGU (2-of-13 from the field, 1-of-10 beyond the arc), swished three triples while netting 13 points. Dudley was credited with a dozen points.
SAGU was paced by Walter and Rambo, who accounted for 17 and 15 points respectively. The rest of the team made just seven of thirty-one shots.
The Lions were led in rebounds by Gentry and Adoyi with eight and seven boards. SAGU managed an 11-6 margin in offensive rebounds.
Free throws were in small quantity on Monday, with St. Thomas stroking 9-of-11 compared to the Lions 3-of-5. Much of that was due to SAGU’s outside shot location.
A month ago during Lions’ 53-48 road triumph against St. Thomas, they were restricted to 26% shooting. They won by rallying late on the strength of dominating the boards, clutch foul-shooting and by holding the Celts to 31% from the field.
During the post-game tradition of cutting down the nets, an appreciative home fan base chanted of their Jungle Kings, “We still champs.”
True. But on this night in the tournament championship, the Celts were worthy wearers of the crown.
Tournament's Selection Show on Wednesday
Both teams have secured a berth in next week's NAIA national tournament in Kansas City, Missouri. Tourney pairings and the schedule will be announced on Wednesday night at 7:00pm at www.naia.org
SAGU will provide detailed coverage of the team's actions in KC.