The Rams came home champions Thursday night, and they plan to continue their Sooner Athletic Conference domination on Tuesday.
The team won the SAC for the second year in a row, beating John Brown University 78-76 in Arkansas.
Now, on the eve of the team’s quarter-final playoff game Tuesday night against Mid-America Christian University at the Sid Richardson Center, Ryan Harris – the top scorer in the John Brown game with 23 points – said his initial reaction to the Rams being conference champs was simple: Wow.
“When we found out we won – at that moment, it was like, ‘Wow,’” Harris said. “Me personally, I’m finally a part of a winning organization. But, I felt like – at that moment – I wanted more. I wasn’t just satisfied with the conference. I want to win the conference tournament. I want to win the nationals. We all enoyed the moment, but at the same time, we want more to come.”
Harris chalked up his performance against John Brown to just doing what he already does best: being consistent.
“There wasn’t any pressure, it was just me, doing what I need to do in order for us to win,” Harris said. “I just felt good, I felt that really I was locked in the whole game, the team needed me to be aggressive, the coach needed me to be aggressive, so I did just that. Plus I was hot, and the ball just kept finding me.”
Harris said he and the team focused on having a good defense, getting shots, and being prepared for people who want their status.
“I needed to lock in defensively, create stops for us, and limit the offense,” he said. “Limit them to one shot, run the floor, and make shots. That’s basically what it is, and we did just that. Every team we play, it’s going to be a dogfight, because everyone wants to play us, ya know? We just have to be ready for each game because there’s going to be one team, every team, any team, who wants to knock us from what we have.”
Senior liberal studies major Naiel Smith collected 10 buckets, seven boards, and nine dishes against John Brown.
“I was real happy man, I mean, we came a long way, we worked real hard this season,” Smith said. “I was real happy, because, obviously, I never won a ring. But, that’s just the short-term goal, man. I be really happy when we win the whole thing for real.”
Despite making some good moves, Smith thinks he underperformed.
“I did horrible that game, I was just so lucky that I had God to pick me up, man,” he said. “And Ryan, Ryan played well. Najeal, Trey – Dion was killing in the first half. I did horrible, but I’m not the only weapon we got to our team.”
Smith said the results of Tuesday night’s game ultimately come down to the Rams themselves.
“Honestly, it’s just all in our hands for real,” Smith said. “So, we got it man – the ball is in our court – literally. We lost to this team – what – twice? So we just got to find it some way in us to come home with the victory. We got to have the fire, because like I said, we lost two games in a row to these guys. So, [it’s going to] be a good game, definitely. I want to do well of course, but like I tell everybody man: Just come to the show, bring your popcorn and we gone see how it go down.”
Najeal Young, a senior criminal justice major, was able to claim 10 points against John Brown, as well as put in a blocked shot that gave Dion Rogers a layup in the last minute of the game, said he’s happy to be on a winning team.
“I was happy,” Young said. “I’ve been a part of multiple teams that didn’t win, teams that couldn’t get past 12, 15 games. And to be a part of this team, knowing we had won a championship, something I hadn’t done in college, was pretty exciting.”
Young thinks the Rams will be tested in the games ahead, but nothing they can’t handle.
“The games are probably only going to get harder, ya know, because they mean more,” Young said. “Teams are going to come at us, teams are going to give us they best shot. And that’s kind of how it’s been all year. Ya know, so that’s a testament to who we are. Games going forward – they’re going to mean more, so they’re probably going to be a little bit harder, but we’re definitely built for it, ya know. So I’m not worried about that part.”
Young attributed Wesleyan’s success during the season to having balance, and everyone doing their part.
“That John Brown game – they had a guy that was playing out of his mind,” Young said, referring to John Brown’s Joseph Brandon, who was nominated for the SAC’s player of the week award for Jan. 23, 2017, according to soonerathletic.org.
“Thanks to the teammates, we don’t just have one guy or two guys that does the workload,” Young said. “We have a pretty even split of production, so it helps to have that, and me personally, ya know, I just try to come out and dominate the paint, and rebound the ball, so that’s kind of my role for the team.”
Both Smith and Young are on the SAC’s All-Conference team. Smith is on the first, and Young is on the second. The players were named to the team on Tuesday, according to ramsports.net.
Head coach Brennen Shingleton wrote in an email that “hard work and preparation” are what earned the Rams their victory.
“Nothing is easy this time of year, we play in the toughest basketball conference in the NAIA,” Shingleton wrote. “I was really excited for our guys. Their hard work and preparation allowed us to be in the position to win a championship!”
Shingleton wrote that the season will continue to become more challenging, but the Rams need to stick to what they’re doing.
“This time of year it shouldn’t be getting [any] easier!” Shingleton wrote. “The stakes are higher [and] all the bad teams are on spring break. We want to be in the position to win. We will not change anything we’ve been doing, we are a great practice and preparation team.”
The Texas Wesleyan University Rams will face the Mid-American Christian University Evangels at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Sid Richardson Center. Tickets are $7 for students from SAC schools with ID and $10 general admission. Texas Wesleyan students, faculty and staff are free (with ID), as are children. The game will be broadcast live at RamSports.net/Live.