The start of postseason play for the Southwestern Assemblies of God University didn’t start off well for the top-seeded Lions.
The No. 8 seed and host team, Oklahoma Baptist University, made one last free throw and a final defensive stop to upset the Lions in overtime, 79-78.
Suffering a loss in the quarterfinals of the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament will not prevent SAGU from competing in the NAIA National Championships in less than two weeks.
The top 32 teams in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) will meet in Kansas City the week of March 19.
In a setting that favored the home team, the Lions held the lead for much of the game.
For every phase of the game that SAGU had the edge, the Bison countered with efficient play and a large surplus of free throws. Even after Oklahoma Baptist had erased the Lions’ 10-point lead and went ahead by five, 66-61, the Lions had an answer.
Caleb Gentry tied the score at 71 when he stole the ball from Hayden Darst and raced the length of the floor for a deuce with 52 seconds remaining.
SAGU forced another clutch turnover to gain possession of the last shot of regulation at 0:31. Tyler Guidry took a handoff from Dominique Rambo and lifted a contested, fade shot from 15-feet. It was a bit short.
“He can make that shot but left it short,” SAGU head coach Donnie Bostwick.
Jon Walter, who rose to the forefront at key times in the clutch, pulled down the carom under the backboard. His buzzer-beating reverse layup bounced three times on the iron before rolling off as the horn sounded.
“Jon made an awesome effort-play,” Bostwick said. “He was flying in from the corner for a reverse putback but it just was not our night.”
Walter know he rushed his attempt.
“I hurried it,” Walter said. “Should’ve made it, but I pushed it. Wasn’t sure if I could get it off before the buzzer.”
The Bison made their first three shots in overtime, all in the paint. SAGU, with four starters encumbered with four fouls, were hamstrung.
Countering with three buckets of their own was the regular season champion Lions. A short jumper by Rambo and a three-pointer, the team’s 14th, by Gentry, preceded a driving layup from the elbow by Emmanuel Adoyi.
His equalizer came at the 1:44 mark.
A foul sent Aaron Abram, last week’s NAIA National Player of the Week, to the free throw line. He split the pair for a 79-78 lead for OBU.
On SAGU’s ensuing possession they worked the ball to Walter, the team’s most accurate shooter. His try from the wing was a tad off-line. Abram reeled in the carom with 0:54 left.
The Lions defense couldn’t afford a Bison basket. They held them without one over the final 3:02 in extra time. OBU point guard Kendall Parks, with a 49 percent free throw imprecision, was fouled by Caleb Feemster with 31 ticks to go.
He misfired twice.
For a second time the Lions had the game in their hands.
Down by one they could offset the copious surplus of free throws that swung the game in OBU’s favor.
SAGU led in practically every category, including a 14-to-7 margin in three-pointers and a game-long advantage on the boards.
The top-seed and No. 5 ranked Lions could thwart a 32-to-12 detriment in attempted free throws with a late score.
Rambo, the Lion’s catalyst, had the ball and the game in his hands. He sped around the left side of the OBU defense, and then jetted past a defender as he drove the baseline.
He leapt as he entered the lane, beating two defenders, one of them rotating to cover for a teammate. As he tried to shoot he was hit on both sides by both of the lead protectors in green.
The shot never had a chance. What appeared to be an apparent foul was a no call.
Abram gripped his game-high 15th rebound with five seconds on the clock. He pitched the ball high into the air and downcourt as time and the Lions’ hopes evaporated.
“We got what we wanted (in the game),” Bostwick said, “but it just was not our night.”
The foiled bid was very similar to the Lions finish at home against Wayland Baptist University. A driving layup by Adoyi was quashed by a charging call to end the game.
“Congrats to OBU,” Bostwick said after the game. “They wanted it worse than we did. Rambo did exactly what I asked him to. He attacked the basket and got fouled. Video tape validated that but it was just not called for whatever reason.”
Despite the loss, Bostwick is glad his team is heading back to the NAIA Tournament.
“We did what he had to do to back to Kansas City,” the coach said, in regard to the bigger picture. “Hopefully this disappointment (the loss at OBU) will stir our fire to do something special at Nationals.”
SAGU led by as many 10 points in the first half. A 17-6 run included five triples, two by Rambo, and single treys from Gentry, Walter and Daniel Mills, gave the team a 32-22 lead.
By intermission the lead was 38-34, SAGU. The Bison had hit 28 percent of their shots (7-of-25) but remained close thanks to converting 16-of-18 from the charity stripe.
Rambo, the MVP of the Sooner Athletic Conference, was solid. He netted 19 points and registered five assists.
Gentry contributed 15 points and played error-free. Walter chipped in with 13 points and pulled down seven boards.
Feemster finished with seven points while Adoyi added nine. He also had 10 rebounds.
SAGU will spend the next week honing their game in preparation of the NAIA national tournament.