Staying Alive, SAGU Beats LU by a Deuce
Duce Ward the difference in 81-79 must-win
LANGSTON, Oklahoma -- Few things settle as many problems as a win. Like love, a victory covers a multitude of sins. No wonder all seems well following a triumph.
Saturday night's 81-79 defeat of Langston University (2-24, 2-19 in RRAC) kept alive the hopes of the Southwestern Assemblies of God University (9-18, 7-14 in RRAC) men's basketball team.
With another win on Monday at Bacone College (11-17, 6-15), coupled with a University of the Southwest (13-15, 8-13) loss at Jarvis Christian College (12-18, 9-12), the Lions would earn a berth in the Red River Athletic Conference tournament. All of the men's games will be played in the Sheaffer Center.
The RRAC tourney will take place this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Waxahachie. Only the top eight teams in the league get to compete, with a berth in the NAIA national playoffs at stake for the top two clubs. In 2006 the Lions made their only trip to the 32-team big dance by advancing to the tournament finals.
Winning When the Chips were Down
Lately the odds of post-season life have not been rosy. In fact, SAGU had dropped seven of their previous eight outings. Entering the Langston game the Lions had a 1-8 road record when facing teams in the Red River. Saying things weren't going smoothly of late was an understatement.
They were as "rough as pine lumber with the splinters still on*"
Most fans left the bandwagon weeks ago as the losses piled up. However, Head Coach Jerry Boone and his staff kept the squad believing and playing hard.
The hard-fought win didn't solve the team's weaknesses, but, with one game remaining, they still have plenty to play for. Players on the team bus afterwards were as a happy as a cat who has been in the cream!
A veteran of the long, grinding effects of a season, Coach Boone spoke of the "team effort" that resulted in the much-needed triumph. "Many guys stepped up," he said after the game. "Duce (Ward) was simply great! He gave us offense when we needed it, especially with his board work on the offensive glass."
"Ryan Russell was solid again," he said of the sophomore who brings his hard hat to the game. "The guys keep working hard, patching things up."
Boone sounded as satisfied as a boy with a slingshot in a heaven of greenhouses!
His Lions have another shot!
Game Summary: The Final Two Minutes
Southwestern led from late in the first half until the final two minutes. That's when Langston rallied to go up by one on a three-point play by forward Eric Harris. In danger of watching their post-season hopes blow away like leaves in the fall, the Lions answered quickly.
Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Connally HS) scored inside to reclaim the lead. On their next possession the Purple Pride got a three-ball from an unlikely source. During a transition break, freshman guard Craig Grigsby (Houston, Tx / Glenda Dawson HS), who is known as a slasher and finisher, knocked down a pull-up triple to give the Cats a huge lift. Threecola!
SAGU added to a three-point lead when Grigsby split a pair of free throws with 20 seconds remaining. After a defensive stop, Jared Gibson (Dallas, Tx / West Plano HS) made 1-of-2 to push the margin to 81-76 with 0:08 to play. Langston canned a trey at the buzzer for the final points.
"It was a 'team' win," proclaimed a jubilant Assistant Coach Jimmie Williams from inside a noisy team bus afterwards. "It was a lot of fun, a lot of hollering in the locker room." Wins will do that.
SAGU wasn't looking like a winner for a while in the first half.
First Half Revisited
Langston's Lions came out strong. Coach Greg Webb's young squad used an 18-8 run to build a 25-15 lead on a Charles Tucker layup with 10:44 left in the half. He unleashed Curtis Thompson early and often. The 6'5 forward and leading scorer for the rebuilding Lions (15.7 ppg) was held to six points in a January 22nd defeat in Waxahachie.
He had it going as his shots were "G-double-O-D GOOD" from the opening tip. He poured in Langston's first 10 points, including a pair of treys. When they took their 10-point lead, he was joined in the attack by Harris's six points and four from Calen Parks. Shelby Coursey also drained a triple during that surge.
SAGU goes Small to Comeback Big!
Team Purp countered with a line-up that was very successful previously this year. They went small, utilizing Grigsby and Da'Tron Harris (Waco, Tx / Waco HS) at the top, pressing the opposing ballhandlers, with Gibson, Ward and Ronald Horne (Waco, Tx / Univ of North Texas, Waco HS) on the floor.
They began pressing, then alternated a myriad of defensive schemes including man-to-man and zone packages. SAGU's defense has been under siege over the past month. With an average of 85 points for opponents, the changes was well received and made a difference.
They Went to Jared!
The velocity unit turned things around. And when the team needed it most, Gibson was money.
He triggered a trifecta on a pass from Horne to start the Lions counter-attack. Ryan Russell (Justin, Tx / Northwest HS), the proletariat 6'4 combo guard checked in, then delivered the goods. Horne fired a dart inside and RR charged inside for a bucket, drawing SAGU to within 27-20.
After a Horne foul shot, Gibson started raining down rainbows. Ward made a steal and got the ball to Southwestern's long-distance operator. He ripped the nets at the 6:10 mark. He unloaded another mortar shot and the Lions were knocking on the door, down 29-27.
Grigsby picked a pocket and his outlet pass found Gibson. Giddy and his zone, he popped another three and Langston's lead was chopped to one, 31-30. Horne seized the lead when he scored in the lane, was fouled, and added the 'and one' for a 33-31 advantage with 3:21 remaining.
After Langston went up 36-33, Ward scored on a putback with 0:56 to go. SAGU claimed the lead at the break, 41-38, on a pair of free throws by both Gibson and Harris.
Nation's Top Scorer helps Engineer Road Win
They managed the lead behind balanced scoring until the closing minutes. Wearing a target on his back, Horne fought off a determined defensive effort to help lead the team to the win. His shot was off, but he still finished with 17 points, including a three and eight-of-nine free throws. He led both teams in assists. Horne took over the NAIA scoring lead a week ago, but said he would gladly take a chance for more games in exchange for the scoring title.
Southwestern had to play most of the game without Bosko Ognenovski (Bitola, Macedonia / State Fair Community College). The 6'9 sophomore took an elbow to the head and didn't return.
Late in the game the Lions got a key contribution from James Southerland (Macomb, Ill / Macomb HS) whose hustle drew praise from the coaching staff.
Player and Team Totes
Gibson led the Lions with 21 points, connecting on 5-of-11 shots. Ward turned in perhaps his best effort of the season, especially considering the situation, netting 19 points while yanking 17 caroms off the boards. Russell had 10 points and six boards. Grigsby registered eight points.
Thompson finished with a game-high 33 points. He was good on 13-of-20 shots in 37 minutes. Harris, also a forward, powered in 20, while Parks totaled 10.
The purple-cladded Lions won in spite of being outshot, 47% to 37%. Langston was true on 52% in the first half but limited to 42% (13 of 31) after recess. The key reasons for their demise were turning the ball over 20 times (SAGU had only 14) and getting outrebounded, 43-41. Led by Ward, SAGU had a 14-7 margin on the offensive glass.
Missed Foul Shots: Free but Costly
A critical edge was Southwestern's ability to convert from the free throw line. They swished 20-of-25 (80%) and continue to lead the RRAC in the category (73%). Langston, fourth in the league (68%), stroked 15-of-24 (62%). In the second half they were 12-of-19. The misses came back to haunt the orange Cats.
Big Monday Match: SAGU vs Bacone
Monday's season finale against Bacone will pit two teams who are similar. SAGU, who won the first meeting, 100-92, have the edge in offense, 78.0 to 72.0. The Warriors play better defense, 77.8 to 84.7. If it comes down to three point efficiency, the Lions average 8.04 per game, which is tied for first with Our Lady of the Lake. Bacone is 12th at 3.96.
SAGU is 2-8 on the road this year, while Bacone is 4-6 in home conference games. The Warriors, who finished fifth in the league last year before winning the conference tournament, won in the Palmer Center last year, 87-79. This time, there is plenty on the line for Southwestern.
*Quote by the late American author, Douglas C. Jones
Current Red River Athletic Conference Standings
|TEAM||RRAC RECORD||RRAC WIN PCT||OVERALL RECORD||OVERALL WIN %||STREAK|
|Texas Wesleyan||20-1||.952||27-2||.931||Won 14|
|Texas College||17-4||.810||18-9||.667||Won 1|
|Paul Quinn||13-8||.619||18-11||.621||Won 2|
|Our Lady of the Lake||13-8||.619||17-11||.607||Lost 1|
|Wiley College||11-10||.524||15-14||.517||Won 2|
|Jarvis Christian||9-12||.429||12-18||.400||Lost 2|
|Univ of Southwest||8-13||.381||13-15||.464||Lost 1|
|Bacone College||6-15||.286||11-17||.393||Lost 1|