Mike Nwelue inscribed his name all over SAGU’s 80-64 victory over second-seeded Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) in the semifinals of the NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament at Municipal Auditorium on Monday night.
During and after the game.
Nwelue, a 6-5 sophomore, hit six straight shots in the second half that broke open a tight game and led the sixth-seeded Lions, 33-4, into Tuesday night’s championship game.
And afterward, Nwelue, who finished with a career-best 21 points, autographed the shirts of some young fans in the Municipal Auditorium corridor.
“It’s a blessing to do things like that,” said Nwelue, of Lewisville, Texas, not far from the SAGU campus in Waxahachie. “From where me and a lot of players come from, you usually don’t see stuff like this. We appreciate their being here.”
Nwelue’s rebound of a missed shot with 20 seconds left in the first half, tied the game at 31-31 before he went on a scoring rampage early in the second half. Lions Guard Caleb Gentry’s three-pointer and fastbreak basket off a steal tied the game at 36-36 before Nwelue started filling it up.
He broke the tie by rebounding his own miss with 17:45 to play. Then, with the Lions leading 46-43, Nwelue keyed an 11-2 run all by himself. He slammed home a lob pass from guard Dominique Rambo with 12:41 to play, hit two mid-range jumpers, another from inside the lane, and capped the flurry by making his only three-point attempt of the night.
“It wasn’t so good at the beginning,” said Nwelue, whose previous best was 20 points, “but I kept my faith, and it worked out for me. It was a special thing tonight.”
Nwelue’s scoring binge gave the Lions a 57-45 lead with 9:12 to play, and Lindsey Wilson would not threaten the margin.
“He just destroyed us,” said Lindsey Wilson coach Paul Peck, whose team finished 32-5. “That one little stretch … that was the difference in the game.”
SAGU, in its first NAIA semifinal, had won its first three games in the tournament by five points. The Lions haven’t shot well in the tournament, just making 38 percent of their shots, but they have forced 20.3 turnovers per game, including 19 by the Blue Raiders on Monday. SAGU’s 14 steals were the third-most in an NAIA Tournament game.
Rambo, the nation’s leader in steals, with 3.65 per game, scored 14 points, and also had seven assists, four steals and most importantly, held Lindsey Wilson’s leading scorer, Kalen Kimberland to two free throws before fouling out.
“We haven’t been the best shooting team this year, but we do have a lot of heart,” said SAGU’s second-year coach Donnie Bostwick. “We need to do little things … we’re one of the best defensive teams, field-goal percentage-wise, we get steals, and rebounds. There are certain things we do, and you saw it.”
Though the Lions made just eight of 24 three-point shots, they chased down 16 offensive rebounds.
“We didn’t react to their quickness on rebounding the whole game.,” said Peck, whose team’s 64 points were the third-fewest the Blue Raiders have scored all year. “They threw up shots from just anywhere. We’re not used to that ball flying here, there and everywhere … our kids were going to the basket to rebound, and the balls were flying all over their heads, and (SAGU was) getting second shots, which were wide open.
“They also did a great job defending us, the best job of defending us by anybody all year.”