No. 12 Texas Wesleyan University had long enjoyed a mastery versus No. 28 Southwestern Assemblies of God University.
The Rams entered the game riding a 14-game winning streak against SAGU, and had yet to lose to them at home.
The Lions extended a 41-25 halftime lead to 50-27, then held off a furious rally to post a 75-73 triumph on the road.
The Rams erupted during a 27-9 surge to tie the score at 72 with 24 seconds left in the game.
SAGU wasted little time to recapture the upper-hand as just seven seconds later, sophomore Mike Nwelue lobbed a pass to senior forward Nathaniel Duce Ward. Playing in just his third game this season, Ward snared the pass and rammed a two-fisted dunk through the cylinder for a lead they would not relinquish.
Ward, who led the NAIA in rebounds as a sophomore, added to his list of game-deciding plays. Last year in the RRAC tournament it was his steal and breakaway jam in the final 10 seconds that iced a nail-biting win against St. Thomas.
The Rams had two more chances to tie the score. First, senior Oscar Griffin split a pair of free throws with 11 seconds on the clock, to draw to within 74-73.
Sophomore Jonathan Walker duplicated Griffin’s free throw effort to finish the scoring.
Wesleyan, with seven seconds showing on the clock, sped the ball upcourt, where it wound up in the hands of junior Isaiah Jay. The 6-feet, 6-inch forward drove the baseline, avoided Nwelue, then appeared to rush a lay up.
It was short, bouncing off the rim, where Nwelue cleared the rebound.
“It was a great road win to end the semester,” head coach Donnie Bostwick said. “The win was for a well-deserving group of young men. It felt like Christmas came early.”
The Lions, now 11-3, improved their win-loss record in the Red River Athletic Conference to 6-2. Texas Wesleyan fell to 9-4 and 4-3.
The Rams dropped their second straight league game, both in the Sid Richardson Center.
It was the first time they had lost two games in a row at home since the 2003-04 season. That year was also the last time they suffered back-to-back defeats within the conference.
“We played lights-out in the first half,” Bostwick said. “Then we had to hold on by gutting out a late run.”
The Lions converted 17 of their 36 shots in the opening 20 minutes, including five three-point baskets.
Junior Dominique Rambo swished six of nine shots for 13 first-half points, and senior James Ford fired a trio of triples to lead the offense.
It was a Ford trifecta, his second in the game, that pushed the Lions on top, 12-10, with 11:57 left in the first half.
They would never trail again.
Their lead swelled to 24-12 following a theft by Rambo, in which he went the distance for a lay up. Ford’s third trey boosted the lead to 39-23.
The Lions had an 18-13 first half rebound margin, with a 7-1 advantage in offensive boards. SAGU’s offensive attack was both efficient and effective. They committed only five turnovers while the defense forced 11.
Rambo, like his team, was due. Overcoming a few recent off-games, he excelled during the huge win for SAGU. He led all scorers with 23 points, making nine of 15 shots.
Along with freshman Adoyi, Rambo collected three steals, keying a defense that coerced 18 turnovers and limited the Rams to 39 percent shooting.
“It was another solid group effort,” Bostwick said. “Defense has been our ticket the first semester. But we still have a lot of room for improvement.”
Ward registered 14 points in 18 minutes. He was four of six from the field and grabbed four rebounds in 18 minutes. Adoyi added 10 points, making good on four of five field goal attempts.
Wesleyan’s comeback contained a 21-12 second half edge on the boards, six treys and cashing in on 20 second half fouls cited against SAGU. The Rams made 16 of 25 free throws.
The Lions were just 12-of-22 from the stripe in the second stanza. It helped open the door for the Rams’ rally.
The TWU starters were held in check, succeeding on 12 of 36 tries. Meanwhile, the Lions initial quintet went 18 of 38.
SAGU’s next home game will be Jan. 4, when the University of St. Thomas (8-3, 4-2 in RRAC) visits.
The Celts dealt the Rams a 78-70 loss in Cowtown on Saturday.