The Waco duo of Ronald Horne and Duce Ward scored 26 and 20 points respectively for Southwestern Assemblies of God University on Monday night, but it wasn’t nearly enough during an 86-68 setback to front-running Texas Wesleyan University.
Horne, a Waco High graduate and the No. 3 scorer in the nation, was held in check by a Rams defense that was very impressive during a game that was broadcast live across the country on the Victory Sports and SAGU Sports Networks.
Horne couldn’t be contained the entire game. After getting just six points in the first half, he sank eight of 10 second half shots in a bid to rally the Lions against the No. 5 ranked Rams. The Lions, who trailed 41-20 during the first half, were able to draw to within 51-43 early in the second frame.
Wesleyan staved off the host ‘Cats by going on a 10-2 run over the next 2:13, sparked by a Bryce Hill three-pointer. A Jeremy Smith basket gave them their largest lead at 84-61.
Southwestern entered the game having won four of its previous six contests and started a strong frontline to contend with the Rams’ imposing big men. Wesleyan, however, countered by beating SAGU on the perimeter.
Four guards came out firing. Brian Wanamaker drained a three-pointer on the Rams’ first possession, followed by treys from both Hill and Jonathan Blake for a 9-7 lead they never relinquished. Sharing the RRAC’s co-Player of the Week honors with Horne, Blake added a traditional three-point play, a two-point score and another triple to open up a 19-10 advantage.
When Jeremy Smith knocked down a 16-footer, the Rams led 23-12, with its backcourt accounting for 19 points.
Few teams can contend with the Lions’ explosive pair of Horne and Jared Gibson, especially when it comes to long-range artillery. But on this night the Rams more than held their own.
Their foursome combined to score 63 points on 20-of-38 shooting, hitting 6-of-14 threes and 17-of-23 free throws. What may have stood out the most, though, was the way they protected the ball. In 110 minutes the group had seven assists, six from Smith, but committed only three turnovers.
“Our guys played very well,” said Rams head coach, Terry Waldrop. “We weren’t going to lose this game. Playing SAGU is always a challenge. They have some outstanding shooters and are always a threat. We focused on them. Horne did well, but it took him 22 shots to get 26 points. I’ll take those numbers when it leads to a win.”
The player selected as the Chicken Express Player of the Game by the SAGU Sports Live crew was Ward, a Waco Connally graduate.
Just days after the passing of his father, Nathaniel Ward Sr., the 6-foot-5 sophomore was steady throughout. He finished with 20 points, going 7-of-13 from the field. The NAIA leader in rebounds was limited to four in a game that was physical inside. The Lions’ Gabriel Clark was imposing, grabbing a team-high seven boards and blocking four shots.
Gibson finished with 11 points by connecting on two treys. He led the squad with three assists.
The match-up at guard was clearly won by Wesleyan, 63-37 in points. SAGU battled well against the Rams on the interior, though they outboarded the Lions by just a 40-34 count. Nnamdi Agbaroji came off the bench to supply the team with four caroms and four points.
After getting off to a 3-9 start the Lions have rebounded to make a strong push in search of qualifying for the RRAC tournament. Even with the loss SAGU remains in eighth place.
The Lions will be back in action on Saturday when Wiley College (11-10, 7-6 in RRAC) visits the Sheaffer Center for a 4 p.m. matinee. The Wildcats have won two in a row, including Monday’s 82-60 triumph over Bacone College.
Before it arrives in town, Wiley will play at LSU-Shreveport (19-1, 12-1) on Thursday.
Should it fall to the No. 3 ranked Pilots, Saturday’s game could draw SAGU to within a game of sixth place. Currently tied with Wiley is Jarvis Christian (10-12, 7-6). The Bulldogs will begin a rough five-game road stretch this weekend, which ends with a trip to Waxahachie on Valentine’s Day.