FULTON -- In a tight, defensive game throughout, the William Woods Owls used their home-court advantage to eke out a thrilling victory as Francis Okwuosah made a putback game-winning buzzer-beater.
Okwuosah's game-winner sent Woods's student section into ecstasy as it stormed the court in celebration.
"That's because of my teammates and coaches for real, for real," Okwuosah said. "I really played terrible first half, came out second half was still missing shots I really should've made. They had the faith in me to keep me in the game. Teammates kept lifting me up, saying I'm going to make a big play at some point. It's all up to them for real. All thanks to God for keeping me out there, for keeping my head ready to make a big play. Just ball fell in my hands, and I happened to make that."
In the latest NAIA Coaches' Top 25 rankings, Woods received 19 votes, and the Roosevelt Lakers received 10. The rankings predicted a close matchup on paper, and it was throughout the game with eight ties and eight lead changes.
Woods's final timeout before its final possession put it on the winning end on the final lead change, as the Owls beat the Roosevelt 54-52 Saturday at Anderson Arena.
Woods started the contest how it wanted, taking its three largest leads of the first half, three points, early.
After winning the tip, the Owls took their first three-point advantage on a 3-pointer from the top right of the arc by Tolton graduate Nate Schwartze. Roosevelt's Cody Mitchell made a layup on its first drive before Woods brought its lead back to three.
To do that, Henry Shannon III scored a floater inside to make it 5-2 Owls. Mitchell responded with a layup to narrow the Lakers' deficit to one; however, the Owls answered again.
Shannon drove to the hoop for a layup, giving Woods its last three-point advantage of the first half at 7-4.
Following that, the Owls turned the ball over four times in Roosevelt's 8-0 run that saw the Lakers take their first lead. Forte Prater put Roosevelt on top for the first time, knocking down a right corner 3 to make it 9-7 Lakers.
Maurice Commander capped Roosevelt's run, converting the second of two free throws to give the Lakers their largest lead of the first half at 12-7.
The Lakers went up by five points one more time in the first half, but before that happened, the Owls soared back to cut their deficit to one point.
Scoring four points unanswered, Woods's Joey Brown IV ran to the hoop for a layup, and two drives later, DJ Purnell scored a layup in transition after Kyle Belgrave II collected a board. The Owls trailed 12-11 following Purnell's bucket.
From there, Roosevelt controlled the pace of play for nearly five minutes and held a five-point advantage for the second and final instance of the first half after Forte landed a right corner jumper just inside the arc.
Not wanting Roosevelt to further its lead, Shannon leaped for a rim-shaking two-handed dunk to cut Woods's deficit to three (19-16).
Keeping it up, the Owls scored on three straight possessions, starting with Shannon's slam and ending with Gacoby Jones Jr.'s 3-pointer from Brown's assist to tie it at 21.
Roosevelt's Sangoly Njie put it back in front at 22-21, making the first of two free throws before Shannon pulled down a rebound, and the Owls tied it at 22 on their ensuing possession.
Jones scored his first free throw to tie it for Woods, but he missed his second, and the Lakers' Julio Montes II rebounded it before Roosevelt went to the line for the second straight drive.
Malcolm Townsel converted his second free throw to put the Lakers ahead 23-22.
Woods capped its first-half scoring with two consecutive buckets, the last one giving the Owls a 26-25 lead. Belgrave scored a layup in traffic for the first, and then Lavel Harris went up for a layup.
On Roosevelt's next possession, it ended the first half scoring, evening it at 26 as David Swedura made the first of two free throws.
Heading into the locker room, the Owls had to be happy with their shooting from the field, tallying a 45.5 percent clip -- seven percent better than Roosevelt -- but they turned the ball over eight times to the Lakers' three.
"In the first half offensively, I don't think we're being very sharp," William Woods men's basketball coach Jordan Ashton said. "I think we let their pressure; they do a great job pressuring the ball. I think that we let the pressure dictate what we do. So I told our guys, we got to be strong. We got to own our space. We got to get to our spots. Be a little bit more aggressive on that, and we're just being too soft."
As Woods did to start the game, it went up to begin the second half thanks to Shannon's layup that gave the Owls a 28-26 advantage. Mitchell hit a jumper to tie it at 28 for Roosevelt, though.
Brown went over a Lakers player to score a layup and bring the Owls back in front at 30-28, and they took a four-point advantage -- their largest to that point -- as Jones dribbled to the hoop and scored a layup.
Roosevelt scored on its next two possessions, and Julio Montes II's top-of-the arc 3 made it 33-32 Lakers.
The Owls answered the bell, knotting it at 33 on Purnell's free throw before Ty'Shon Pannell sank a shot from deep off a Brown assist to make it 36-33 Woods.
With 11:04 left, the Lakers called timeout, and Commander scored a 3-pointer immediately after to put them up 38-36.
For the following 8:26, Roosevelt (4-1) stayed on top, but the Owls clawed their way back as Jones knocked down his second and final 3-pointer to put Woods up 52-50.
Replying instantly, Mitchell tied the contest at 52 with a layup. A thrilling conclusion to the game unfolded from there.
Woods had a chance to go up by one with :49 left with Jones at the line, though he missed, and Roosevelt's David Swedura rebounded the ball before the Lakers called a timeout with :44 remaining.
Mitchell missed a jumper following the timeout, Harris brought down a rebound, and the Owls called a timeout with :22.8 left to talk over how they wanted to handle what would likely be their final drive.
"It's just having faith in us. (Ashton) told us to keep working," Owuosah said. "Obviously, it's a low-scoring game. We're not getting very many shots in the rim, but just let our defense become our offense for real, for real. That big stop with 35 seconds left won us the game, really."
It all came to plan as Owuosah laid in the putback at the final buzzer after Jones missed a jumper.
"It was definitely not how we drew it up," Ashton said. "We wanted to obviously get an attempt at the rim. The play didn't really work; they guarded extremely well. But then we knew we had to crash extremely hard and try to go and make something happen, and thankfully, Fran(cis) did that extremely hard and just plays extremely hard at all times. So I'm really happy for him that he was able to do that."
While Woods played well as a team, Shannon's performance stood out most, notching a game-high eight rebounds, a team-high 12 points and two steals.
As a team, the Owls' defensive effort helped them win: Roosevelt finished 20-57 (35.1 percent from the field) while Woods was 21-47 (44.7 percent), and WWU outrebounded the Lakers 37-26.
"Defensively, I think we had a really good overall game," Ashton said. "First half was really good. The second half was really good. That's a team that's extremely talented. They score 93 points a game, so holding them to 52, I think we did a really good job overall."
Townsel had the Lakers' best game, tallying a game-high 13 points, three steals and tying for a team-high one assist.
William Woods (3-4) faces crosstown rival Westminster (0-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Historic Gym in Fulton. In their first-ever meeting, the Owls beat the Blue Jays 79-47 on Nov. 28 last season.
"With Westminster across town just about a mile away, it's always going to be something where we try to play them and really get a lot of fans out," Ashton said.