A wondrous season that witnessed the men’s basketball team from Southwestern Assemblies of God University soar higher than most ever dreamed ended with a loss in the national title game.
No. 6 SAGU came up just short of its first NAIA title in an 88-62 loss to No. 13 Georgetown College in the NAIA national championship game.
“The journey was amazing. God showed his faithfulness over and over again,” SAGU head coach Donnie Bostwick said. “I have never been more proud of a group of young men. They have reached the stars and shined brightly for their King.”
The Lions (33-5), who won more games than every team except top-ranked Columbia College (35-1), battled tooth and nail against the bigger and more experienced Tigers. Georgetown has qualified for the tournament for 22 consecutive years and their 32 total appearances are the most of any school.
Georgetown was ahead 47-40 after a breakaway basket by Dominique Rambo thanks to a steal at midcourt by Caleb Gentry.
But after that possession, a pair of miscues allowed the game to get away from the Lions. SAGU missed a wide-open three-pointer from the corner and a lay up on a 3-on-1 fastbreak.
That was their final chance to begin another classic run, but it paved the way for Georgetown to pull away.
The Tigers went on a 14-2 run to take control of the game; 61-42 with 8:46 remaining. The Tigers’ size advantage paved the way for Georgetown to dominate the paint.
They held a 33-10 advantage on the boards in the first half and finished with a decisive 61-31 share of the rebounds. Their big men also blocked eight shots.
SAGU struggled throughout the line-up to connect from the field. After making nine-of-35 shots in the first half, the Lions made good on just 15-of-49 after the break.
The Lions vaulted out of the gate as Gentry swished the game’s first shot, taking a Rambo feed and draining a triple from the left wing. Moments later Jon Walter scored a transition bucket following a Gentry steal for a 5-0 lead just 95 seconds into the game.
A crowd of 4,605 was on hand, including a large following from SAGU. The atmosphere in Municipal Auditorium was electric, even when the Tigers began to control the lane, scoring five times in the paint for a 17-7 lead they would not relinquish.
Rambo swished a three from the left edge of the arc, an acrobatic spinning lay up by Gentry and a long trey from the right by Rambo pulled SAGU to within 17-15 at the 8:08 mark.
James Ford launched a trifecta from the baseline and SAGU trailed by a lone point, 19-18 at 7:36 into the game.
The Tigers replied with Monty Wilson, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He fired in a pair of threes and converted an offensive board for a 31-20 lead.
The gritty Lions managed to draw to within 33-26 on two free throws by Mike Nwelue and a Rambo three-pointer from the top of the key.
SAGU stayed within six or seven points through the early stages of the second half. A triple from Gentry followed a pass to the leftside from Rambo. Walter snatched an offensive carom and spotted Tyler Guidry at the top of the arc for another trey. It was 39-33 at 16:56.
Rambo scored on a runner inside before Gentry’s midcourt theft led to another bucket by Rambo just before the Tigers began to pull away.
Nwelue added a dunk as an offensive follow-up and Ward retrieved an offensive miss and banked in a putback. Guidry hit a short jumper and a three.
Emmanuel Adoyi lasered in a shot from the elbow after Nwelue raked down an offensive carom. Gentry contributed a lay up and a triple from the left wing, while ‘Bo tossed in lay ups and a scoop shot.
Those SAGU scores were interspersed with mini-runs by Georgetown, who continued to distance themselves with hot-shooting. The outcome was no longer in doubt.
A night after thumping the highest remaining ranked team, No. 2 Lindsey Wilson College, 80-60, SAGU’s magical run was ending just one game shy of the desired coronation.
“A different player stepped up and carried us on our run this week. Tonight it just was not meant to be,” Bostwick said. “I praise God for his favor and I praise Him in the pit of a poor night shooting.”
After the game, SAGU’s sportsmanship was evident, tipping their hats to the better team on this night.
During the post-game festivities the Lions, who won the hearts of so many during their unprecedented run to the championship, were named the national recipient of the NAIA’s Champions of Character award.
Nwelue and Rambo were elected to the 10-man All-Tournament team, with Rambo also winning the Charles Stevenson Hustle Award for his effort in Kansas City. It was their hunger, desire and wonderful chemistry that had driven these men to the largest stage in the NAIA.