UMW News Bureau
The University of Montana Western men’s basketball team will advance to the NAIA Elite Eight for the first time in school history after taking out the third-ranked Lee University Flames (Cleveland, Tenn.).
Will Barnes opened the game with a three-pointer for the Flames. Montana Western’s Tyler Miller answered with his own. The first half continued this way as neither team went on a big run. The Bulldogs got their first lead, 16-15, at the 12:23 mark on consecutive Jordan Overstreet three-pointers.
Lee would gain the largest leads of the half, eight points, with 5:14 and 3:30 remaining. The Bulldogs closed out the half with a three pointer and two buckets compared to the Flames’ two free throws to cut the deficit to three at 31-34.
The Flames again made the first shot of the half before Montana Western responded with a Maazin Butler basket and a Gabe Rucker long ball to tie it at 36. Lee kept a slight edge until Montana Western quickly scored seven straight to go up 54-51. With 10:19 remaining, the Flames reclaimed a two-point lead.
Then the Bulldogs took control, outscoring the Flames 10-2 to go up 67-61 with seven minutes to go. Lee would not get any closer as Montana Western sank seven of eight foul shots to pull off the 83-73 upset.
Montana Western proved Lee wrong with their 48 percent (28-58) field goal shooting as the Flames rank first in the NAIA for limiting opponents to 37 percent. The Bulldogs were also 33 percent (9-27) behind the arc and 69 percent (18-26) from the charity stripe. Lee shot 42 percent (25-60) in the contest, including seven of 19 (37 percent) from downtown. The Flames made 16 of their 24 (67 percent) foul shots.
Overstreet and Kris Castro led a balanced Bulldog attack with each putting up 14 points. Kris Collins and Butler followed with 13 apiece. Jake Owsley and Castro each had seven rebounds to help the Bulldogs edge the Flames 40-34 on the glass. Rucker dished four assists while Castro had three assists and two steals.
Lee was led by Chase Dunn with 17 points, Duran Blue with 15 and three assists and Jamorris Gaines with 14 points. Southern States Athletic Conference MVP Will Barnes (20.15 points per game) was limited to five of 12 shooting for 14 points and four turnovers.
Montana Western will now face the sixth-ranked Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) out of Waxahachie, Texas. The SAGU Lions finished the regular season with a 20-2 Red River Athletic Conference (RRAC) record and ended up losing 51-67 to the University of St. Thomas (Houston, Texas) in the conference championship. The Lions received an at-large bid after finishing in sixth place in the coaches’ final regular season top 25 poll.
This is just the second time in school history that the Lions (31-4) have made it to the national tournament. They took out the University of Science and Arts (Chickasha, Okla.) 62-58 in the first round and Martin Methodist College (Pulaski, Tenn.) 72-68 in second round action.
Against Science and Arts, the Lions shot 35 percent (22-63) from the field, nine percent (2-23) from behind the arc and 64 percent (16-25) from the free throw line. Mike Nwelue had 19 points followed by Dominique Rambo with 12 and Tyler Guidry with 10. Rambo also had six assists and seven steals.
In their second round match-up with Martin Methodist, SAGU shot much better; 39 percent (22-57) from the floor, 44 percent (10-23) on three-pointers and 75 percent (18-24) from the foul line. Rambo led all scorers with 28 points (including 19 in less than five minutes) while Jonathan Walter had 22 and Caleb Gentry contributed 11. Rambo and Gentry had five steals apiece along with four and three assists, respectively.
Rambo, a 5’10” junior, leads the nation in both total steals (123) and steals per game (3.62). Rambo also leads the Lions with 19.32 points per game and 3.97 assists. Nwelue, a 6’5” junior, has a team-best 7.44 rebounds and 0.85 blocks per contest.
Montana Western will take the court with SAGU on Saturday, March 16 for the first quarterfinal game at 1 p.m. MST. An all-tournament pass to watch the broadcast games is still available for $29.95 while a single day pass can be purchased for $9.95. The winner will advance to the Final Four in a 5 p.m. game broadcast live on ESPN3 on Monday, March 18. The championship final will be televised live on CBS Sports Network at 6:30 p.m. on March 19. Visit www.NAIA.org for more information or a complete bracket.