The Eastern Mennonite University's men's basketball team fell short in the final seconds after overcoming a 22-point deficit, ultimately falling to Emory & Henry College, 78-76, in an ODAC Tournament semifinal game Saturday night at the Salem Civic Center.
The Royals end their season 12-15 overall as they exit the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament. In his final season at the helm of EMU's program, Kirby Dean finishes his career with a 201-195 record.
Against Emory & Henry (21-6), the Royals gave up the first two baskets and fell in an early 14-2 hole just 3:21 into the game, forcing a timeout on the floor. Less than three minutes later, the Runnin Royals picked up some speed as Maleke Jones (Charles Town, W.V./Washington) dumped in a three pointer, which was followed by a stop on the defensive end, allowing RaShawn Latimer (Warrenton, Va./Kettle Run) to take the ball to the hole and cut the deficit to 20-10 with 13:21 remaining.
Midway through the first half, the Royals implemented a full court press in an effort to slow down the Wasps in transition. With the press in effect, the Royals were able to build a 12-4 run with just under five minutes left.
After a couple of empty trips on both ends, Maleke Jones hurled a pass to Latimer on the other end for a quick lay-in, making it 37-26.
E&H missed a pair of free throws allowing the Royals offense to find Jerome Jones (Charles Town, W.V./Washington) for a clean look from the three point line. The shot cut the double-digit deficit to eight, 39-31, with 2:46 to play in the first.
In the final 8.4 seconds of the first half, EMU came up with a defensive stop, giving Xavier McCants (Olney, Md./Sherwood) a chance to find Latimer from beyond the arc who hit a trey just before the buzzer. The Royals headed into the break trailing 48-37.
The Royals started the second half with back-and-forth play, before Maleke Jones went in for a layup to bring the score within ten, 54-44. The Wasps made a jumpshot on the other end and was then sent to the charity stripe on consecutive plays. E&H converted on all four shots and extended their lead to 60-44 with 14:30 to play.
The teams were stuck at 64-54 for exactly three minutes until Isaiah Harris-Winn (Frederick, Md./St. Maria Goretti) hit a jumper to break the silence with 7:37 remaining.
The Wasps were sent to the stripe on the next play, but only went 1-for-2 giving the Royals a quick break to the basket. After a missed shot, McCants pulled down an offensive rebound to give the Royals another look, which was converted after Harris-Winn drained a three pointer to make it 65-59 with just over seven minutes to play.
Travis Clower (Romney, W.V./Hampshire) went one-for-two from the stripe to bring it to 67-60, but the Wasps responded with back-to-back threes to extend their lead to 73-60. Maleke Jones answered with his third three of the game to come back within 10 points, 73-63, and 4:52 remaining.
Maleke Jones then drove to the basket on back-to-back possessions, hitting the first shot and getting fouled on the second. He went 1-for-2 from the line and brought the score within seven points at 73-66 and 3:21 to play.
EMU earned a quick 8-2 run, including a three pointer from Harris-Winn that brought the Royals within one point, 75-74, with 1:19 left. Maleke Jones came up with a steal and Latimer got out in transition and to the net for EMU's first lead of the night, 76-75.
With 36.4 seconds left, E&H hit a jumpshot to come back on top. After an empty trip on the Royals offensive end, the men were forced to foul as time was winding down. The Wasps hit 1-of-2 from the line, giving EMU the ball with 20 seconds left and trailing by two. After getting the ball over the half court line, EMU called a time out before getting the last look of the night. Harris-Winn's contested jumper didn't fall and time expired, giving E&H the win and a second straight trip to the ODAC title game on Sunday afternoon.
Both teams shot 40.0% percent from the three point line, but the Wasps out-shot the Royals from the floor 47.5% (28-59) to 41.3% (26-63). EMU held a slight advantage in rebounding, 40-36, and only had a -4 margin in turnovers (15-11), but E&H was able to capitalize on points off turnovers, going up 31-11.
Maleke Jones led the way after charting 24 points, four assists, and six rebounds. He went 5-for-9 from three.
Harris-Winn finished with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Latimer added 17 points and five assists.
Four players reached double figures for E&H, with Tharon Suggs and Chase Branscomb each netting 18 points. Alic Wynn finished with a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
In their last game as Royals, the seniors combined for 65 points and 27 rebounds after leading their team to the ODAC semifinals for the first time since 2015.