Normally shooting 49% from the floor, including 47% from three-point range, is good enough to get a win, especially with a +8 rebounding margin. But when Lynchburg's Zack Burnett hit his 10th triple of the day with 12 seconds left, he personally negated what had been a great effort for the Runnin Royals, handing EMU's basketball men a 97-93 loss in Harrisonburg.
The hard-to-swallow setback is the seventh in the last nine games for the Royals (9-12 / 3-9 ODAC), who have been pummeled by a dizzying mix of injuries, tough calls and incredible performances by their opponents. Against Lynchburg (12-9 / 6-6 ODAC) it was two of the three, as Burnett broke program records by hitting 10-of-16 three pointers and EMU was whistled for moving screens on back-to-back possessions during crunch time.
Given how the ball has been bouncing for the Eastern Mennonite men, they showed incredible resiliency against last year's ODAC champions. After Burnett opened the contest with a three pointer, the Runnin Royals took control with tough defense. The men picked out a pair of steals and blocked a shot, which in turn fed their offense into scoring on five straight possessions. Isaiah Harris-Winn (Frederick, Md./St. Maria Goretti) hit a triple and scored seven points as EMU zipped to a 13-3 lead just 3:14 into play.
The Hornets got no closer than two points midway through the half, and then the Royals landed a quick 8-0 jab to earn their biggest lead of the day at 51-40. Jerome Jones (Charles Town, W.V./Washington) canned a three pointer to finish that streak, helping Eastern Mennonite to a 51-42 lead at halftime.
The men played an incredible first half and connected on 10-of-20 treys over the opening 20 minutes.
Burnett started LC's charge quickly in the second half, and his third three ball of the frame put the Hornets in front 58-57 at the 15:41 mark. It was their first lead since the opening minute.
But the Royals answered with back-to-back threes of their own, flipping back in front 63-58. Spearheaded by Burnett, Lynchburg kept coming. When the senior guard hit his sixth bomb of the half, and ninth of the game, it gave LC a 75-71 lead with just under 10 minutes to play.
Harris-Winn hit a three pointer and a minute later converted a three-point play after a Khalil Davis (Harrisonburg, Va./Spotswood) steal, capping an 8-2 streak which again put the men up, 79-77. Burnett finally missed a long shot on the Hornets' next possession, and the crowd of 629 started to feel like their Royals had weathered the storm.
A three ball from RaShawn Latimer (Warrenton, Va./Kettle Run) pushed EMU's lead to 87-83, and it still stood at four points when Jones hit a driving layup to make it 91-87 with 2:19 to go. But a win was not in the cards.
Connor Schroeder hit a step-back three for Lynchburg, and Harris-Winn was called for a moving screen on EMU's next possession. Burnett drove to the hoop and was fouled, with his two free throws putting the Hornets in front at 92-91. Mark Loving (Woodford, Va./Caroline) was the next victim of an offensive foul and Schroeder hit a jumper to make it 94-91 with 1:02 remaining.
Travis Clower (Romney, W.V./Hampshire) sunk a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left to get the men within one, but Burnett closed the door with his final three pointer, coming on a play where he trailed a driving teammate and was left open on the left wing.
Eastern Mennonite looked like a well-oiled machine on the offensive end, shooting 30-61 from the floor and earning assists on 24 of their field goals (80%). They finished 18-23 from the free throw line and also had a 37-29 rebounding advantage.
Lynchburg was just as efficient offensively, however, going 34-68 overall, including 14-24 from outside. The 58% from three was a season high.
The teams combined to shoot 29-56 (52%) from beyond the arc.
Latimer was a dynamic force for EMU, connecting of 6-of-9 threes en route to a career high 26 points. He also added five assists. Harris-Winn finished with 18 points and two blocks.
Jones notched a double double with 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Clower finished with 13 counters, including three triples.
Loving picked up four of his five rebounds on the offensive end and blocked a pair of shots, but showed an adept passing touch in racking up a career high six assists. Davis added four assists.
Burnett finished with 36 points, one off the All-ODAC First Teamer's career high. Schroeder added 16 off the bench. Devante' Young had seven assists.
Final Two Weeks
Even with the recent string of losses, Eastern Mennonite is still within sight of hosting an ODAC Tournament First Round game. The men are just one win behind a trio of teams tied for eighth place. Seeds five through eight get a home game in the First Round.
The Runnin Royals play at Bridgewater on Wednesday. The rival Eagles are the only team below EMU in the ODAC standings and have lost 12 straight. Game time in Nininger Hall will be at 7:00pm.
Eastern Mennonite can also affect their positioning with games remaining against Randolph and Roanoke, both of which are also in the mix for an ODAC tourney home game. The men end the season at third-place Emory & Henry.