LMU men pushed to the final buzzer, but survive and advance in SAC Tournament

Simmons’s clutch three-pointer sends third-ranked Railsplitters into title game of SAC Championship
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Junior shooting guard Gerel Simmons (Accokeek, Md.) scored nine of his team’s final 11 points and buried the game-winning three-pointer with 11 seconds left to fuel an 8-0 closing run and lift the third-ranked and top-seeded Railsplitters (29-1) to a 67-64 come-from-behind victory over the fourth-seeded Queens Royals (17-13) in the semifinal round of the 2015 South Atlantic Conference Championship on Saturday at Timmons Arena in Greenville, S.C.

Thanks to Simmons’ late heroics, Lincoln Memorial advances to the title game of the SAC Championship for the third consecutive season and the fourth time in the past five years. With the win, the Railsplitters also reset the program and SAC single-season record for wins, breaking the 2013-14 team’s previous watermark of 28.

The first half was an indication of things to come as neither team established a lead larger than five points in the frame. Sean Morgan scored five of the first nine points of the game and staked Queens to a 7-2 lead with a three-point play at the 17:43 mark, but the Railsplitters answered with a 9-0 spurt to grab an 11-7 advantage on a Dorian Pinson (Greenville, S.C.) bucket at 14:41. The Royals then scored seven straight points to take a 14-11 lead with a hair over 13 minutes left in the half.

The Railsplitters tied it up three times over the ensuing passage of play, but never regained the lead until Emanuel Terry (Birmingham, Ala.) scored at the 6:13 mark to give Lincoln Memorial a 23-22 edge. Three free throws put the Royals back in front, and a Kendall Jones triple extended the Queens advantage to 28-24 with 3:13 left. The Railsplitters fought back to knot it up at 28-28 with back-to-back jumpers from Tim Pierce (Albany, Ga.) and Luquon Choice (Laurens, S.C.) at 2:16. The game was tied two more times in the remainder of the half before Pierce buried a jumper at the buzzer to give the Railsplitters a slight 34-32 halftime edge.

Lincoln Memorial carried the momentum of that last-second basket into the second half, as a pair of Lorenza Ross (Savannah, Ga.) free throws with 15:12 left gave the Railsplitters a 42-36 lead. Three-pointers from Curtis Webb (Spartanburg, S.C.) and Keenan Peterson (College Park, Ga.) wedged around a Jared Hendryx bucket pushed the Railsplitters lead to 48-40 by 13:56. The lead ballooned to 11 just seconds later on a triple by Choice.

Just as quickly as the Railsplitters built that double-digit cushion, the Royals erased it, churning out a 22-5 run over the next seven minutes and 15 seconds to turn an 11-point deficit into a five-point lead. A Peterson layup and a triple from Pinson accounted for LMU’s only points during that drought, while six different players scored for Queens over that stretch. Marquis Rankin tallied the last five points of the run and staked the Royals to a 62-56 cushion with 6:03 remaining.

And that is precisely the moment that Simmons took over for the Railsplitters, scoring all nine of his points in the last six minutes of action. The Accokeek, Md. native drained a jumper at the 5:39 mark to cut the deficit to 62-58, and he followed up a Jedarian Jackson bucket with two free throws to keep Lincoln Memorial within four points with 2:42 left.

After a huge defensive stop, Curtis McMillion (Fayetteville, N.C.) hauled in an offensive rebound and found Pierce, who trimmed the deficit to 64-62 with a jumper.

Rankin missed the front end of a 1-and-1 on the next possession, but Queens recovered the ball due to an LMU turnover. Looking for a dagger, Rankin’s jumper with 36 seconds left was turned away by Choice, who then recovered the rebound to give the Railsplitters one more possession.

Coming out of the 30-second timeout, Queens turned away LMU’s first option and ran Choice off the three-point line, but the Laurens, S.C. native drove into the paint and kicked it out to Simmons, who banged in the eventual game-winning three from the corner with 11 seconds left.

Rankin came screaming down the right side of the court immediately following Simmons’ three and the Royals’ point guard got a nice look, but his eight-foot bank shot rimmed in and out. Simmons hauled in the rebound, absorbed the foul and drained two free throws to ice the Railsplitters’ win.

Lincoln Memorial finished shooting 43.9 percent (25-for-57) from the field, 33.3 percent (5-for-15) from three and 92.3 percent (12-for-13) from the free throw line. The Railsplitters mustered a 38-23 advantage on the glass and grabbed 12 offensive rebounds. LMU assisted on 14 of its 25 baskets.

It was a balanced offensive effort for the Railsplitters, as five different players contributed at least eight points. Peterson produced 11 points and led all players with eight rebounds, while Simmons scored nine points in 15 minutes off the bench. Choice struggled from the field (4-for-12), but contributed nine points, four rebounds and four assists. Pierce rolled in nine points, while Pinson finished with eight points in 12 minutes.

Queens became just the second team to shoot better than 50 percent against the Railsplitters’ No. 1 nationally-ranked field-goal percentage defense, making 51.1 percent (24-for-47) of its shots. That was the most efficient game by an LMU opponent since Newberry recorded a 52.9 percent mark on February 11, 2012. The Royals shot themselves in the foot at the free throw line, though, where they went 14-for-22 (63.6 percent).

Rankin led all players with 15 points. Morgan accounted for 11 points, while Hendryx, Darryl White and Lewis added eight points apiece.

The Railsplitters advance to Sunday’s SAC Championship title game to square off against rival Carson-Newman, who moved past Newberry in Saturday’s second semifinal contest. The Eagles are responsible for LMU’s lone loss of the season, as Carson-Newman captured an 87-72 win over the then No. 1 ranked Railsplitters in Tex Turner Arena on February 4. The two teams split the regular season series, though, as Lincoln Memorial responded with a 91-61 bashing of Carson-Newman on February 25.

Lincoln Memorial is vying for its second straight SAC tournament title and its third since capturing the 2011 SAC Championship.

Tip-off between LMU and Carson-Newman is set for 4 p.m. Sunday at Timmons Arena.




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