Lions Rally Soured in 64-59 Setback
St. Thomas scores game's final seven points
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- After rallying from a 12-point deficit against one of the best defenses in the nation, Southwestern Assemblies of God University yielded the game's final seven points to the University of St. Thomas in a 64-59 setback.
The loss was particularly difficult in that it ruined a great comeback. The Lions, now 8-16 this season, fell for the fifth time in six games.
St. Thomas, who will join the Red River Athletic Conference next season according to their head coach and athletic director, Todd Smith, won for the third straight time. The Celts (pronounced Kelts) improved their won-lost record to 12-10.
After getting off to a 3-7 start, St. Thomas recovered in impressive fashion. They defeated Our Lady of the Lake and then #4 ranked Texas Wesleyan (24-2) in winning of nine of their past twelve outings. Thursday's Celts triumph completed a season sweep of the Lions, having taken a 71-56 win in their season home opener in the Jerabeck Athletic Center in Houston.
First Half Gaffes
Imploring the #9 scoring defense in the nation (63 ppg), St. Thomas completely controlled the Lions offense in the first half. Their man-to-man defense and quickness on the perimeter shackled the Big Cat Attack. SAGU never led and coughed up the ball numerous times, thanks to a combination of aggressive defenders who shut off lanes and errant passes.
By the end of the half the Lions had more giveaways, 18, than points, 17. They made only 20% of their twenty shots.
Meanwhile, SAGU was playing their own brand of defense, which kept them in the game. Led by Nnamdi Agbaroji (Houston, Tx / Westbury HS) and Nathaniel Duce Ward (Waco, Tx / Connally HS), the Lions held a 20-17 edge on the boards. The defense squeezed eleven turnovers from the Celts and limited them to 9-of-27 shooting.
Leading 10-5, the Celts appeared about to convert a Jeremy Lewis steal into a breakaway layup. Ronald Horne (Waco, Tx / Univ. of North Texas, Waco HS) storming from behind. The 6'1 junior guard denied the deuce by swatting the ball off the backboard, much to the delight of the fans. Moments later the Saints answered when Lewis assisted on a three-ball by Bryan Kaase.
Kaase continued his solid play throughout the first stanza. The 6'4 forward connected on four of five shots en route to 13 points in the first 13 minutes. The Celts led by 10 on two occasions, the first at 19-9 at the 6:39 mark.
The Lions made several big plays amid their penchant for turnovers. The team missed their first five shots and lost control of the ball five times before Agbaroji scored on a putback four minutes into the game. At one point prior to intermission the Lions had 17 miscues to eight by UST.
Jared Gibson (Dallas, Tx / West Plano HS) drained two, long trifectas, the second on a kickout pass from Bosko Ognenovski (Bitola, Macedonia / State Fair Community College) that brought SAGU to within 13-8 at 13:34.
Horne stroked a 3-ball from the left wing as the Celts were denying his penetration. It was 19-12 (6:07). Three free throws by Ward sandwiched an Anthony Medina trey to close the half with St. Thomas owning a 26-17 advantage.
Second Half Scoring Surge
The Celts began with buckets by guard Travis Lampley to go up, 34-22. Kaase scored following a SAGU turnover for another 12-point lead, 36-24, with 14:44 remaining.
Much to their liking, the pace was increased by the Lions. They were good on five of their first ten shots, including a pair of Horne triples, while making just two turnovers. He drew a foul while attempting another three, and brought SAGU to within 36-32 by knocking down all three from the charity stripe.
Lampley resumed making plays all the way to the final buzzer. The Chicken Express Player of the Game stole the ball from Ward, leading to a 3-ball by Melvin Roberts. It was 41-32 (12:21). He set up another trey, this one by Medina (47-39) and intensified his pressure on defense. He made seven steals and five assists in the second half alone. His three-point play answered a Gibson trifecta that lifted the red-cladded Celts to a 50-42 upper hand (8:37).
Team Directions: North, after Southerland Checks In
That's when Southwestern staged their comeback. It was sparked by James Southerland (Macomb, Ill / Macomb HS). The 6'6 sophomore forward, back after missing three weeks with an ankle injury, powered in a Ward miss. Craig Grigsby (Houston, Tx / Glenda Dawson HS) zipped a pass to Gibson, and the junior guard whose range is legendary, fired a high-arching 3-bomb that brought down rain. SAGU was inching closer at 54-49.
Horne drove inside for a layup and Gibson hit both ends of a one-and-one, cutting the Lions deficit to 55-53 with the clock reading 5:38. Ward knotted things (55-all) with a lay-in, capping a 31-19 run.
He gave came right back with a runner, was fouled, but his "and one" free throw rimmed out. Still, SAGU led 57-55 (3:48). After a Lampley's helper on a Kaase basket evened the score, Ward struck again. He snared a missed three by Horne and put it through the cylinder. The Lions were on top, 59-57, with 2:23 left.
Southwestern wouldn't score again.
Twenty seconds later Lampley set up a 3-pointer by Kosi Nwosu (KO-SEE WO-SOO) from the left side. He added another steal on the Lions next possession. After Medina clunked two FT's, Grigsby missed a midrange jumper that would've given SAGU the lead. Following a turnover by Lampley, he fouled the speedy freshman Grigsby as he darted inside.
Down 60-59 with 0:24 showing, Grigsby's front end of a one-and-one rolled off the rim. He is a 78% shooter from the stripe, which ranks him #6 in the RRAC.
Lampley added a pair of foul shots with nineteen seconds left. Southwestern, down 62-59, needed a three-point score. Instead they turned it over on a high, errant cross-court pass from the top of the key. Lewis picked off the toss, was fouled, and iced the game on the foul line with ten seconds left.
Southwestern, after shooting just 20% in the first half, fired in 56% after recess. Still, they made 11 more turnovers to finish with 29. They were 7-of-9 on the foul line in the second half, but missed the last two when the game was on the line. They outboarded the Celts in the second half, 20-15, ending the game with a 40-32 margin.
While SAGU scored 42 points in the second half, their defense yielded 38. UST's accuracy in the second stanza was 44% and they had only three turnovers after halftime. The Lions led for only 50 seconds during the game.
Horne led all scorers with 21 points (6-of-16), with Gibson totaling 18 (6-of-15). Both guards swished four three-pointers. Ward contributed 13 points and a game-high 14 boards. He continues to lead the NAIA in rebounds at 12.2 rpg. Agbaroji had four points and nine rebounds.
Kaase (KAH-zee) paced the Celts with 19, making six-of-nine shots. He ripped down seven caroms. Medina and Lampley netted 13 and 10 points. St. Thomas hurt themselves by missing 11 of 27 free throws. SAGU was 13-of-18.
The Lions played without Gabriel Clark (Modesto, Ca / Modesto HS), who averages 10.1 rebounds and 4.0 shots blocked per game. He was scratched from the line-up for Thursday night, as was guard Glorie Ndongala (Kinsasha, Congo / Northglenn HS). The latter is recovering from an injured knee.
Prior to the start of the game the team celebrated its lone senior, Nnamdi Agbaroji (NAHM-dee AGG-bar-O-jee), in a brief ceremony.
Home Court Advantage?
Southwestern finished their home schedule with a 7-9 record. Sheaffer Full Life Center saw the Lions win three of their initial four games before a 4-8 finish.
Lions Take to the Road
The Lions have four games remaining, all on the road against conference teams. They travel to Austin, Texas on Saturday to face Huston-Tillotson University (1-26, 1-17 RRAC) at 6:00pm. SAGU won their first meeting, 81-70, extending a 36-34 halftime lead. Horne led four players in double-figures with 29 points. The Rams are 0-10 at the Mary E. Branch Gymnasium.
Fans can follw the written accounts of the game, while they happen, via LIVE STATS. Visit the Red River Conference, click on M-Basketball in the left column, then on the word LIVE STATS in the far right column under the SAGU vs HT game listing to access this service.
The Jungle Kings play in San Antonio on Monday when they tangle with Our Lady of the Lake University (15-10, 11-7). The Saints are currently 7-4 on their Mabee Gymnasium homecourt.
SAGU ends the campaign in Oklahoma next weekend. They meet Langston University (2-20, 2-15) on Saturday, February 26. The LU Lions are 1-10 inside C.F. Gayles Fieldhouse. Two nights later the Lions season and RRAC tournament hopes rest in their outcome against Bacone College (10-14, 5-12). The Warriors are 4-6 when playing in the Palmer Center.
Southwestern's 2010-11 season can end in one of three ways.
Providing the team finishes in eighth place or higher in the RRAC standings, they will earn a berth in the Red River tournament, March 3-5. The tourney will be hosted by Southwestern. It is a single-elimination event.
Should the Lions win two games, they could qualify for a berth in the NAIA national tournament, March 16-22, in Kansas City, Missouri. That tourney has a field of 32 teams.
Another possible destination is the National Christian College Athletic Association's Central Regional. That tournament will take place during March 10-12 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. If the Lions were to win there, they would advance to the NCCAA Nationals, March 17-19, in Oakland City, Indiana, where an 8-team field would compete for the championship.
Or the squad can finish their season after the finale in Muskogee, Oklahoma on February 28.
Last Year's Post-Season Action Revisited
Last year the Lions made the RRAC tourney as the #8 seed. They held a four-point lead with a minute remaining before falling to #1 seed, Texas Wesleyan, 76-72.
SAGU hosted the NCCAA Central Region, where eight teams competed. As the #8 seed the Lions drew #1 Dallas Baptist University (18-11). SAGU rallied for a 92-87 victory before a packed Sheaffer Center. They upset Arkansas' Central Baptist College (18-10), 72-64, in the semi-finals. In the championship game the Lions lost a second half lead to Mid-America Christian University (18-15) in a 77-69 defeat. MACU will host this year's regional in OKC, Ok.
SAGU SPORTS Live Interview
During Thursday's livestream on SSL, producer John Cookman spoke about the first year of broadcasting SAGU sporting events. After the game he spoke in detail about the future of SAGU SPORTS Live and how it will serve the athletic community as well as its role within the Southwestern education program.
The game can be viewed, along with previous archived games, by clicking on the school website's home page and clicking on SAGU TV.