The Runnin Royals nearly erased a deflating final minutes, but a good-looking halfcourt shot from Isaiah Harris-Winn (Frederick, Md./St. Maria Goretti) rimmed out at the buzzer, leaving EMU with a heart-wrenching 70-69 loss at Washington and Lee in the ODAC Tournament First Round Monday night.
Despite holding a small lead for much of the game, Eastern Mennonite (10-16) ends the season shy of Salem for the second straight year. Seventh-seeded W&L (12-14) heads to the quarterfinals in the Salem Civic Center to take on No. 2 Randolph-Macon on Thursday.
The first half was characterized with the Royals trying to find a way to stop W&L's All-ODAC big man, Clayton Murtha. EMU's already depleted interior presence got in early foul trouble with starter Darius Johnson (Altavista, Va./Altavista) picking up two fouls in the first two minutes and 32 seconds, and Josh Good (Luray, Va./Luray) getting tagged for three by halftime.
Even with the hot start for Murtha, RaShawn Latimer (Warrenton, Va./Kettle Run) was not only keeping the Runnin Royals in the game, but had them in front. Started by a lay-in from Latimer, the men used a 7-0 run to go up 17-10.
Murtha eventually connected inside to get the Generals their biggest lead of the game at 33-29, but Eastern Mennonite rattled off the final nine points of the frame to go back up 38-33. Harris-Winn pushed in a jumper at the buzzer to cap the strong finish.
W&L grabbed the momentum from the start of the second, however, using a 13-5 run to go ahead 46-43. The Runnin Royals calmly weathered the storm and got five unanswered from Latimer to re-take the lead at 48-46.
The junior canned his fifth three pointer with 9:22 remaining, bumping EMU's cushion to 58-53. From there, both teams hit a cold spell. The Royals' defensive pressure and patience on offense seemed to have worn out the Generals, although the men couldn't make the plays to put the game away.
Harris-Winn hit a huge triple at the 6:03 mark, swishing a long attempt with the shot clock winding down to make it 63-56, equaling the Royals' biggest lead.
Austin Kearns finally ended a 5:21 spell without a field goal for W&L, cutting the lead to 63-60 with a layup with 4:19 to play, but Travis Clower (Romney, W.V./Hampshire) nailed a three in transition to put the margin back at six.
Kearns kept the Generals, moving, however, kissing in a three pointer off the rim and backboard followed by a jumper from the elbow to get W&L up 67-66 with 1:30 remaining.
Latimer hit a contested three pointer from the left corner to get the men back up 69-67, before Andy Kleinlein drove in and converted a plus-one with :17 seconds left, putting the home team in front once again at 70-69.
The Royals turned it over on what was anticipated to be their final possession, but dodged a bullet when Murtha missed the bonus free throw with four seconds to go.
After a timeout, Harris-Winn got the ball back after inbounding it and attempted the shot he wanted from halfcourt, but the on-target attempt skimmed off the rim, a painfully fitting ending to EMU's injury-derailed season.
Eastern Mennonite out-shot their hosts, 48% to 41%, and even held a 36-34 rebounding edge. The Royals couldn't overcome their miscues, however, turning the ball over 18 times for a -7 turnover margin.
After picking up his play over the final weeks of his season, Latimer ended on a personal high note, hitting 11-of-17 shots, including 6-8 from outside, for a career high 28 points. Over the final 10 games of the season, Latimer has averaged 17.3 points and equaled or broken his career high four different times.
Clower had eight points and four assists while Harris-Winn came in with eight points and nine rebounds. Xavier McCants (Olney, Md./Sherwood) also scored eight. Jerome Jones (Charles Town, W.V./Washington) grabbed a game high 10 rebounds.
Kearns scored 18 for W&L, including a personal 7-0 run in the final minutes to erase EMU's lead. He scored nine of the Generals' total of 11 points over the final five minutes. Murtha had 23 with seven boards, but made just 5-of-15 free throws. Kleinlein had 20 points and four steals.