A 17-5 run that had No. 5 ranked Southwestern Assemblies of God University on the brink of a thrilling triumph was snuffed out by a controversial non-call in the closing seconds of a 99-97 loss to St. Catharine College.
The defeat ended the Lions’ season at 26-6. No. 28 ranked St. Catharine (19-12) advances to the second round of the NAIA National Championship tournament.
SAGU spent much of the game trailing by eight-to-14 points, primarily on the strength of a 47-27 mastery of the boards by the Patriots.
The relentless Lions never quit. Despite the Patriots’ uncharacteristic hot shooting; they made 59 percent of their shots, SAGU battled back against their larger, deeper opponent.
Down 84-72 with 5:33 remaining, the Lions began whittling away at the deficit. Wildly inconsistent during the regular season, the Patriots were forced into a season worst 33 turnovers.
The Lions were still in the game, 97-89, after a dunk by William Bailey with 1:42 to play.
SAGU answered by pressuring the Patriots into coughing up the ball and missing shots and free throws.
Baskets from Dominique Rambo and Jonathan Walter pulled the team to within four. After SAGU passed up an open three-pointer and then turned the ball over, the Patriots missed two charity shots with 28 seconds to go.
Rambo netted a circus shot and St. Catharine was holding onto a 97-95 lead with 17 seconds left.
A questionable call on Tyler Guidry resulted in free throws before Caleb Feemster countered with two foul shots with 13 seconds showing on the Municipal Auditorium clock. Again the Patriots threw the ball away.
“The game had a surreal feel to it,” Walter said. “The comeback had a strong sense that a win for us was meant to be.”
On the ensuing possession, Rambo drove inside and spotted Walter open in the corner. His three-ball bounded off the bracket part of the rim, where six-foot-five Julito Hutchinson snatched the carom.
He was quickly fouled. The 37 percent free throw shooter missed badly on successive tries.
Rambo grabbed the rebound and, with over four seconds to play, zoomed up court. He entered the lane and attempted a pull-up jumper in front of center, Raymon Austin.
The 6-foot-8 senior stepped into Rambo and knocked him to the hardwood, effectively preventing him from scoring. No foul was called as the Pirates celebrated a stunning upset.
It was the Lions’ second straight loss (the first back-to-back defeats this season), both of them ending with Rambo being knocked to the floor with officials not blowing their whistle.
In the Sooner Athletic Conference tournament opener at Oklahoma Baptist University, the Bison (15-15 this season) escaped with a 79-78 victory.
The bittersweet setback brought a premature end to a season that was filled with obstacles and challenges.
“Few teams would’ve given themselves a chance to win a game like this,” SAGU head coach Donnie Bostwick said. “These guys are the biggest overcomers I have ever coached.”
The coach was proud of how his team continued to battle.
“The guys are the hardest workers, and they have blessed my life,” Bostwick said. “They simply don’t quit. I love these men. They have spent the entire season overcoming.”
As for St. Catharine, who had their second best shooting game of the season, Bostwick credited them a with good game. “They’re a good team,” Bostwick said. “They hit threes (in the first half) and free throws that are uncharacteristic of them.”
The Patriots, who average just four three-pointer per game, made seven-of-nine by halftime. They didn’t make another after halftime. SCC also had a season-best 40 free throw attempts, netting 30 of them.
SAGU hit 42 percent of their shots and 28-of-35 foul shots. The team swished only one three-pointer in the first half, a season low.
Walter hit 10-of-16 to lead the team with 28 points. The junior latched onto six boards and registered three helpers and two steals.
Rambo had 20 points, four assists and five steals. He was good on just six-of-22 tries.
Feemster added 16 points and eight rebounds while Gentry accounted for 15 and four steals. Emmanuel Adoyi was credited with five steals, a category the Lions dominated, 20-8.
Daniel Mills led the reserves with six points.
The Patriots bench ruled in this game, outscoring the Lions’ second unit, 43-15. They made 14-of-23 shots to SAGU’s 5-of-13.
St. Catharine, the NAIA’s second best team in the country in offensive rebounds (15.7 per game), finished with 12, the same total the Lions had.