Rams Stave Off Lions in RRAC Tournament
Gibson, Horne, Ward lead SAGU
Team Set to Enter NCCAA's Central Regional, March 10-12
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- They may have gotten a late invitation to the dance, but they made it count. In fact, with about five minutes to go, they were on the verge of stealing the show.
But alas, the clock struck midnight on Cinderella's dream and the basketball turned into a pumpkin.
Facing the No. 3 team in the nation and top-seeded Texas Wesleyan University, the challenge couldn't be more daunting for Southwestern Assemblies of God University on Thursday afternoon. With a chance to knock off the champions of the Red River Athletic Conference in the quarterfinals of the post-season league tournament, the Lions battled ferociously with the Rams.
In the end, Wesleyan had enough weapons to withstand a late charge, registering a 97-83 triumph.
When junior Ronald Horne (Waco, Tx / Univ of North Texas, Waco HS) knifed inside for a layup with 4:44 showing on the game clock, the Lions were knocking on the door, trailing 78-73.
The Rams, methodical during much of the matinee, put an end to the upset hopes of the Lions and fair crowd with nine unanswered points over the next ninety-two seconds. Two steals by Jonathan Blake and Bryce Hill keyed the surge to clinch the game.
In the final 4:44 the Rams connected on 6-of-9 shots, including a triple by Hill, and they knocked down 6-of-7 free throws to stave off the host Lions. SAGU meanwhile, made 2-of-their-final-7 shots, with Horne and Jared Gibson (Dallas, Tx / West Plano HS) swishing a combined 6-of-6 from the line.
Wesleyan has their way on the boards
They couldn't match the Rams depth and were no match on the boards. Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Connally HS) reeled in 11 rebounds and could nail down the title of nation's best on the boards (12.3 rpg). Wesleyan, however, won the game with their own version of Windex, wiping the glass clean to the tune of 46-27 in rebounds. Jonathan Blake, a 6'7 combo guard-forward, had a game-best 13 caroms.
Coach Jerry Boone's team, as they are known for, played hard and spirited to the very end. They simply lacked big men inside to complement their outstanding backcourt duo of Gibson and Horne, who combined to score 55 points.
It was also very apparent the Lions had no answer for Texas Wesleyan's superior depth. One of their best recruiting classes ever could be just the tonic for SAGU, who will not lose a single player to graduation.
Gibson, a 6'3 junior guard, had an outstanding game, earning a spot on the RRAC All-Tournament Team. He made 11-of-20 shots, including five trifecta's, to lead all scorers with 29 points. He grabbed four boards and, along with Horne, made three steals. Horne netted 26 points, though Wesleyan made him work diligently for every one. He stroked three treys and 9-of-12 foul shots. He led SAGU with three assists.
Ward added 12 points for the Lions. Craig Grigsby (Houston, Tx / Glenda Dawson HS), a freshman guard, tossed in seven points in twenty-five minutes of play.
Until the closing minutes, Southwestern made more baskets than Wesleyan. It didn't matter, as the Rams physical brand of play inside and their guard's ability to penetrate led to 37 free throws. They made good on 30 of them, distancing themselves from the upset-minded Lions.
The Rams outscored SAGU in the paint, 42-30, and their bench held a 19-5 advantage in points over the Lions. Turnovers were virtually even.
Jeremy Smith and Brian Wanamaker were a great backcourt duo for Coach Terry Waldrop's squad. Smith, a 5'10 local product from DeSoto High School, missed only four of a dozen shots and hit all eight of his tries from the charity stripe to score 26. Wanamaker, whose twin brother (Brad) is a starting guard for No. 4 ranked Pitt, was a compliment to Smith. In his 22 points were a pair of three-pointers, 10 free throws, five rebounds and six assists. The slasher was the zig to Smith's zag.
Add to their game the addition of Blake's inside production and shooting range, were the skills of yet another guard, Hill, a 6'1 junior. He netted 19 points, scoring in transition and from a distance (two treys).
First Half Revisited: Six Lead Changes
The first half was tight through the first fifteen minutes. The lead changed hands six times and was tied on another six occasions. A Smith turnover led to a Gibson jumper – thanks to an assist from Peter Dutton (Houston, Tx / Booker T. Washington HS), which knotted the score for the final time (24-24, 6:40 to go).
The Rams had jumped to a 10-4 lead before the Lions came to life. Grigsby stopped and popped from the left wing, followed by a pair of Gibson 3-bombs. The trio of threes in less than a minute where fueled by a Gibson steal and a blocked shot by Bosko Ognenovski (Bitola, Macedonia / State Fair Community College) lifted the Lions to a 13-10 margin.
Hill, Smith and Wanamaker matched the Lions series of threes with successive triples of their own as Wesleyan roared to take a 21-15 lead with 9:30 remaining.
After Horne, who has been competing for the national scoring championship with Simon Fraser University's (Burnaby, British Columbia) Ricky Berry, made a pair of free throws, Gibson spotted the Lions' Nnamdi Agbaroji (Houston, Tx / Westbury HS) in the lane. He canned a turnaround jumper, much to the delight of the home crowd (estimated at 450).
After snatching defensive rebound, Ward sent an outlet pass to Dutton. He keyed a fast break chance when he connected with Horne, who took one step, then drained a trifecta for a 22-21 advantage at the 8:20 mark.
The Rams recovered and , like they did at the end of the second half, finished strong.
A theft by Hill led to his own three-ball for a lead the Rams would never relinquish at 27-24. A layup by the brawny Ty Gough (pronounced Goff), a Smith deuce and then Blake fed Wanamaker for a breakaway, two-handed flush and a 33-24 lead. Wesleyan was still on top at intermission, 38-30.
The Lions were awarded the number eight seed by the NAIA when they declared Texas College ineligible for post-season play on Wednesday afternoon, less than a day before the tourney was set to begin. The loss dropped the Lions record 11-18. Wesleyan improved to 28-3.
Lions Enter the NCCAA's Central Regional
Southwestern awaits the seeding from the Central Region of the National Christian College Athletic Association. The Lions will compete in this tournament during March 10-12, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Mid America Christian University will play host to the event that could field as many as 10-teams.