Hanging on for a wild win
Lions defeat Montana Western, 84-79
SAGU dominates the game's first 30 minutes
KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- The Lions figured to have their hands full against a team that was high as a cat’s back at a dog show.
The University of Montana Western (24-9) was fresh off a stunning upset of no. 3 ranked Lee University (Tenn) (30-4), 83-73.
No. 6 Southwestern Assemblies of God University, the new kid on the block, playing their third game in four days, was about to dominate the no. 14 ranked Bulldogs in the quarterfinals.
The Lions, now 32-4, built a 24-point lead and staved off a furious comeback to post an impressive 84-79 win at the NAIA national championship tournament.
A desperate Montana Western turned to three-pointers in the second half, and, despite making 12 of them, and shooting 51% after intermission, never drew closer than four-points. It was a notable rally.
The Lions, however, shot 53% in the second half, and refused to yield to a hard-charging team bent on duplicating three other huge comebacks in the tournament.
As Kris Collins connected on seven treys after being shutout in the first half, the Bulldogs had momentum surging in their favor. They also benefitted from several debatable calls in the final two minutes.
The undying energy exhibited by the ‘Dogs was remarkable.
SAGU’s resilient calm against intense pressure was even more striking, making their commanding performance in the first half stand up when under siege.
Lesser teams and weaker men would have crumbled.
The Lions built leads of 17-5 and 34-10 in the first half while squashing the Bulldogs offense into 4-of-27 shooting (15%) in the first twenty minutes. Only a 3-of-20 effort from long distance kept SAGU from crushing Western.
Closing Time; Lions deny Bulldogs rally
Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” could've described Collins' three-point outburst. The Bulldogs had a near-perfect closing, but it still wasn't enough. They gave the Purple Pride their best shot, but couldn’t knock them out.
SAGU withstood the Bulldogs’ burst, persevering under duress, and walked away with their third tournament victory.
Of the contrasting halves, Head Coach Donnie Bostwick, surrounded by scores of fans and well-wishers outside the locker room in historic Municipal Auditorium, “Weird is normal,” he said. “That team (Montana Western) doesn’t quit. Neither do we.”
He pointed out the comeback failed to overcome the “incredible job of defense our guys played in the first half.”
The Lions' deep and talented bench has seen different players rise like cream to the top in each game. On Saturday it was senior forward Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Connally HS).
The player who led the NAIA in rebounding as a sophomore and electrified crowds with dunks and transition baskets while working in tandem with Ronald Horne (Waco, Tx, Univ. of N.Texas, Waco HS) in the past has enjoyed winning and playing a different role under Bostwick.
Appearing indolent in the first two games in the City of Fountains, the genial 6’5 Ward burst onto the national scene, gushing with plays in the clutch. He scored a season-high in both points (24) and rebounds (15).
In reality, his 24-points topped his previous best of 22 against the University of the Southwest on November 27, 2010. That day also saw Horne pour in 27 in a 99-89 triumph. Horne was Michael Jordan to Duce’s Scottie Pippen.
On Saturday, Ward was the unquestionable leader.
The Lions led 55-35 with 9:59 left in the game when Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Oklahoma Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School) stole the ball and went the distance for a layup. Three and a half minutes later the Bulldogs had roared to within 58-51 with 6:28 to go.
When Collins uncorked his sixth triple and Maazin Butler converted a three-point play, Western was within 62-57 at 4:33. An amazing 22-7 run had SAGU fans feeling scared as a jackrabbit hearing the midnight howl of the wolf.
But not the Jungle Kings.
Under pressure Duce proves pivotal
Ward had collected 14 points by then. Donning a cape, Super Duce rose up, up and away.
Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS) drove the lane from the foul line and passed to his left to Ward, who had cut in from the low block. His layup helped stemmed the tide.
Rambo liked the idea, spinning in the paint like a whirling dervish; then firing a dart out to Jonathan Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS). He gunned a 3-ball from the corner to reestablish a 10-point lead.
Seconds later Ward stepped in front of a pass on the defensive end, and zoomed downcourt for a rousing tomahawk dunk!
After a miss on the Bulldogs next possession, Ward wristed a midrange baseline jumper to cap nine unanswered points for a 71-57 advantage.
After a bucket on an offensive putback by 6'9 Vince Turk, the Lions added their final basket.
Weaving through defenders, Rambo lifted an ‘alley’ and Ward supplied the ‘oop.’ Duce’s thunder dunk gave Team Purp a 73-59 margin with two minutes showing on the arena clock.
A desperate Montana Western, who could produce just 12 points in the entire first half, scored 22 points in the final 2:12.
Guard Jordan Overstreet, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring and Turk, a reserve, both caught fire.
Overstreet made two hurried three-pointers and was fouled on a third try, swishing all three free throws.
Turk, who scored a career-high 19 points, added a putback and three free throws. Kris Castro and Collins each triggered triples in the last minute.
Each SAGU possession was an exercise in playing keep-away as the frantic Bulldogs fouled different players, hoping for missed foul shots so they could reduce their deficit.
Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Okla. Wesleyan Univ., Hondo HS), Nwelue, Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark / Parkview HS) and Ward combined to make 11 of 14 from the charity stripe.
Adoyi (pronounced like a-TOY) knocked down a pair with 0:18 left for an 82-72 lead, allowing Coach Bostwick to empty his entire bench.
Two fouls and a turnover later helped the Bulldogs draw to within 83-79 on a heaved three with six seconds to go, causing some Lions fans to feel as nervous as a june bug in a hen house.
Alas, the cushion the Lions had worked so hard to build proved too much for a never-say-die Montana Western team.
“We were not ready to go home yet,” explained Ward. “We had to refocus late in the game when they made their run, but our lead was too much for them.”
“I am honored, happy and proud to be in the semi-finals,” he added. “But, to be honest with you, this was our goal from early in the season. We wanted to be here.”
A season-long modus operandi, finishing strong in the eleventh hour, has continued in KC. SAGU, efficient in the clutch, rallied for come-from-behind wins in their first two games; 62-58 over the University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma and in a 72-68 defeat of Martin Methodist College.
Staving off Montana Western was yet another.
“We weren’t afraid,” stated Ward. “We all believe and trust in each other.”
“Duce was impressive,” praised Bostwick. “Duce shined and God shined through Duce.”
“He has been the heart of this team all year. He really stepped up. He stepped up every time we needed someone to make a play. He’s a senior,” declared the coach.
“Protecting leads against the best teams is not easy, and our guys were impressive in making ours hold up.”
In racking up 24 points, Ward made good on 9-of-14 shots. What was especially critical was his 4-of-6 effort from beyond the arc. He entered the game having connected on just six treys all season.
The soft-spoken Elementary Education major sank both of his tries from the foul line and ripped 15 rebounds off the backboard.
Adding to his performance was that he produced those numbers in just 23 minutes of playing time.
Rambo had another masterful game, bagging 18 points, four assists and three steals. Nwelue tossed in 11, while Gentry and Walter each netted nine points. Walter blocked two shots
Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian) and Adoyi chipped in with seven and six points off the bench. The latter also snatched 11 rebounds, made a pair of thefts and rejected a shot.
On Deck: Semi-Finals on national TV
Next up for the Lions is a semi-final date against the highest remaining seed in the 32-team field. Monday night they will take on Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky). The Blue Raiders are 32-4.
Fans can watch the 6:00pm game on ESPN3. For those inclined, another venue is to listen on-line via Lindsey Wilson’s internet radio broadcast on 610 Sports.com.
Click on the following link for the LiveStats webcast, as well as a review of all tournament games. The game is set for a 6:03 (CST) opening tip.
In the other semi-final, no. 13 Georgetown College (Ky) (26-8) meets no. 25 Louisiana State University in Shreveport (27-6) at 8:00pm.
For the first time ever, the Red River Athletic Conference has two of the four teams in the Fab Four. The possibility of an all-Red (SAGU-LSUS) final would be alright.
SAGU will provide expanded coverage with articles and photos posted at www.sagu.edu.