NAIA semi-final recap and title game forecast
Defense, Nwelue keys 80-64 win over Lindsey Wilson
Lions face Georgetown College in Tuesday title game on CBS
KANSAS CITY, Missouri -- Eleven unanswered points midway through the first half, all scored by Mike Nwelue (Lewisville, Tx / Lewisville HS), spurred the No. 6 ranked Southwestern Assemblies of God University men’s basketball team to an 80-64 upset of No. 2 Lindsey Wilson College in the NAIA Semi-Finals in Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium.
The victory advances the Lions to the national championship game on Tuesday night. They will take on Georgetown College (Ky), who stunned LSU-Shreveport with a buzzer-beating three-pointer, 90-88.
Broadcast nationally by the CBS Network, the title game is set for a 7:35pm (CST) tipoff. The courtside announcers will consist of Color Analyst Rich Zvosec and Neil Harwell, who handles the play by play.
The game will also be available for an audio broadcast by 610 AM Sports Radio (KCSP) Kansas City from the website: 610sports.com. Mark Miller is the voice and host for 610 tonight.
After a 31-31 first half that was as level as the scales of justice, the Lions used early three-pointers from Caleb Gentry (Hondo, Tx / Okla. Wesleyan University, Hondo HS) and Jonathan Walter (Garland, Tx / Garland HS) and a steal by Gentry that he cashed into a coast-to-coast bucket for a 46-43 lead.
Nwelue (pronounced like DWELL-way) then pushed the lead and the game decidedly in the favor of SAGU. The sophomore with a sweet touch on the perimeter rose like a phoenix from the fires of time.
“He made a couple of stops on defense,” explained Lions’ Head Coach Donnie Bostwick, “and that got him going.”
The critical scoring burst started after he made a steal near the free throw line then passed to Dominique Rambo (Dallas, Tx / Okla. Wesleyan Univ., Trinity Christian School). He raced downcourt and was on the receiving end of a deftly delivered lob from Rambo. His two-fisted, thunder dunk lit up the arena with 12:30 remaining.
He followed that with a 16-foot jumper from the right side. The 6’5 forward with ups like a goosed gazelle, began to stretch the Blue Raiders beyond its comfort dimensions.
After Milton Watts scored on an inbounds play for Lindsey Wilson, he resumed.
Senior Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Univ. of N.Texas, Connally HS) passed to him in transition. Nwelue pivoted near the top of the key and knocked down a 17-foot jumper. On SAGU’s next possession he caught a pass from the baseline and wristed an 18-footer that was stamped “ditto” from the previous basket.
The run was capped by a play that completely forced the Raiders out of their comfort zone and the Lions into command.
Rambo, from the right wing, sent a pass to Nwelue at the top of the key. Facing the basket as if to pass, the forward with the stoic expression calmly fired a triple that ripped the nets for a 57-45 advantage at the 9:12 mark.
From that moment the Lions controlled the game like a man holding four aces.
Watts converted a three-point play to pull the Raiders to within 59-51 as the clock flashed 7:21.
SAGU replied by stretching their upper hand with eight straight points.
Emmanuel Adoyi (Little Rock, Ark / Parkview HS) grabbed a loose ball during a scramble for a loose ball in the paint, and turned it into a layup. Rambo swiped the ball in the backcourt, cashing it into a breakaway deuce.
Sophomore guard Tyler Guidry (Houston, Tx / Westbury Christian), as the shot clock dwindled to five seconds, made his way down the right side of the lane. As he drove inside he lateralled to Adoyi (like a-TOY), who cut in from the left for a smooth layup.
Rambo snatched the ball away from a Lindsey Wilson guard on defense, and spotted Nwelue streaking across court like Detroit’s Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.
His completed pass was finished with another Nwelue two-handed jam, much to the approval of SAGU fans. The Lions led 67-51 with only 3:05 remaining.
The Lions’ offense was clicking in the decisive 21-8 run.
But it was their defense that dictated the pace of this game, gradually wearing down a Blue Raiders team that averaged 80 points per game.
SAGU contested practically every shot with a man-to-man defense that paroled well beyond the arc.
Strong as a garlic milkshake, the Lions hurried shots, holding their opponent to 32% (21 of 64) shooting. They forced 11 of the Raiders 19 turnovers in the second half, and held their own on the boards against their taller foes.
Duce Ward, who led all rebounders with 12, finished off Lindsey Wilson with a play on the defensive end. He stole the ball at the foul line, broke into the clear and completed the play with a flying tomahawk slam for a 73-55 margin.
Ward’s senior teammate James Ford (Victoria, Tx / Faith Academy) joined Rambo and Gentry by combining to make 7-of-8 free throws to close the scoring.
“The win was an amazing thing,” said a relieved Coach Bostwick.
“We’ve gotten stronger (toward the end of) in games and our guys know where that strength comes from,” he explained. “There is a lack of fear. The guys’ strength takes over when fatigue tries to set in.”
“Our team is a bunch of tapped-in young men,” Bostwick continued. “They are blessed by the Lord and I am so proud of them.”
“We were hungrier and wanted it more than them,” said Ward. As for the team’s penchant for having different players step up in pressure games, he said “We take turns. But the glory is God’s, and we thank Him.”
Surrounded by glad-handers and back-slappers in the hallway following the game, Adoyi smiled and said, “Defense makes the difference.”
He repeated that line for emphasis, then quipped: “But it isn’t over yet. We have one more game.”
Nwelue finished with a career-best 21 points. He was credited with seven boards, four steals and two blocked shots.
Rambo added 14 points, dished out seven assists and added to his national lead in steals with four more.
Guidry came off the bench to contribute 13 points in 19 minutes. He knocked down three of the team’s eight three-pointers and played free of turnovers.
Gentry, the defensive antagonist on the edge, contributed 10 points and had two of the team’s 14 steals. Adoyi and Walter tossed in eight and seven points.
SAGU, whose team shooting percentage is far from the nation’s best at .408 (93rd of 102 teams), made 17-of-28 (61%) in the second half to finish at 45%.
The Lions defense, which ranks fourth best in the NAIA, allowing opponents to make 37% of their tries, permitted the Raiders to sink 21-of-64 shots (.328).
They held the Raiders leading scorer, Kalen Kimberland, to an 0-for-11 shooting in a two-point performance before he fouled out after 27 minutes.
In advancing through the 32-team field to the NAIA finals, the Lions are the just the second team in the 15-year history of the Red River Athletic Conference to do so. Only Texas Wesleyan University in 2006 went this far.
The Rams, as the #27 seed, won the national championship.
Tuesday night the Lions, the new kid on the block, have a chance to become the second to wear the crown.
They will need to defeat the Georgetown Tigers (27-8), who are Goliath to SAGU’s David in the NAIA tournament. For 22 consecutive years the Black and Orange have qualified for this event, winning it all in 1998.
Georgetown, with 32 total appearances in the tourney, is 1-3 in the finals.
The Tigers beat the RRAC’s St. Thomas, 70-68, before upsetting No. 4 John Brown University, 80-67, in the second round. They rallied late to stun Culver-Stockton College, 86-82, in the quarterfinals.
Last night they came back from an eight-point halftime deficit to nip LSU-Shreveport, 90-88, thanks to Monty Wilson’s last-second trey.
Tuesday night, on the brightest of stages, SAGU will leave their mark on the NAIA.
Having surpassed most everyone’s expectations, they look to gather five stones for their sling.