Railsplitters’ slow start, Mt. Olive’s solid play knock LMU out of NCAA’s

HARROGATE, Tenn. – The top-seeded Railsplitters (30-3) missed their first 11 shots and fell into a 22-point hole in the first half in which they could never recover in a 75-55 loss to the fourth-seeded Mount Olive Trojans (30-3) in the semifinal round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional on Sunday at Tex Turner Arena.

It’s a bitter end to an otherwise historic season for the Lincoln Memorial men’s basketball program, who set the South Atlantic Conference single-season record for wins and winning percentage, became just the second team in program history to win 30 games and the first since the 1976-77 squad, and captured a third straight regular season SAC title.

A seemingly unending scoring drought haunted Lincoln Memorial once again, as the Railsplitters did not check into the scoring column until Curtis Webb (Spartanburg, S.C.) buried two free throws at the 13:30 mark, and they wouldn’t get their first field goal until Webb drained a three-pointer with 10:09 left in the half. Webb’s basket ended an 0-for-11 start for the Railsplitters. Mount Olive, meanwhile, flourished during that stretch, canning eight of their 12 shot attempts to race out to an 18-5 lead.

It would take four more minutes for the Railsplitters to score their next point after Webb’s triple, as Mount Olive ballooned the lead to 27-5 by the 6:32 mark with a 9-0 spurt.

Luquon Choice (Laurens, S.C.) ended that run with a three-pointer with 6:10 left in the half, kicking off a 12-1 closing rally for the Railsplitters. Gerel Simmons (Accokeek, Md.) bombed in a three-pointer at 3:52 to trim the deficit to 27-11, and he tossed in another trey with 48 seconds left to cut the margin down to 12 points. Lorenza Ross (Savannah, Ga.) hit one of two free throws before the half ended to send Lincoln Memorial into the break in a 28-17 hole.

The Railsplitters were fortunate to be down by only 11 points at the break. Lincoln Memorial went 5-for-25 (20 percent) from the field in the half and 4-for-13 (30.8 percent) from three, but Mount Olive settled for contested three-pointers in the last six and a half minutes of the half, going 0-for-5 from deep over that span.

Any momentum the Railsplitters had won back in the close of the first half was washed away early in the second stanza, as Mount Olive opened with an 11-2 run, capped by a Mike Moore triple at the 17:41 mark, to push the lead to 39-19.

Two Simmons free throws and a tip-in by Emanuel Terry (Birmingham, Ala.) brought the deficit down to 44-30, but Dontrell Brite buried a jumper to start a 6-0 Trojan run. The Railsplitters pulled to within 14 points on two more occasions, but Kendall Hargrove answered the first with an emphatic jam at the 7:43 mark, and Moore erased the second with a triple at 7:08.

A three-point play by Moore, followed up by a fast-break dunk from Brite, extended the Trojans’ lead back to 66-46 with 4:48 left to play and put the game completely out of reach.

Mount Olive turned in a surgically precise offensive performance, shooting 48.4 percent (30-for-62) from the field and 43.8 percent (7-for-16) from three. The Trojans finished with an unreal six-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, assisting on 18 of their 30 field goals with only three turnovers.

Moore led all players with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting and a 3-for-3 mark from long distance, while Brite scored 16 points, handed out four assists and grabbed three rebounds. Jordan McCain added 13 points, while Hargrove scored eight points and led all players with 16 rebounds.

The Railsplitters shot 51.8 percent in the second half, but finished with a 36.5 percent (19-for-52) clip for the game. After going 16-for-23 from three-point territory in yesterday’s win over North Greenville, the Railsplitters were just 7-for-23 against Mount Olive.

Simmons paced the Railsplitters with 13 points, while Ross added 12 points, 11 of which came in the final 7:32. Webb scored 10 points and grabbed five rebounds.

Terry was a bright spot in an otherwise forgettable night of basketball for the Railsplitters. The freshman forward grabbed a team-leading 12 rebounds and provided a major spark off the bench with six points and three blocks.

Choice – a Daktronics All-Southeast Region first team selection – was held completely in check, going 1-for-11 from the floor and scoring just five points before fouling out with over nine minutes to play.

Mount Olive won the rebounding battle 39-33 and outscored the Railsplitters 36-24 in the paint. Behind Simmons and Terry, the Railsplitters’ second unit produced a 26-4 advantage over Mount Olive’s bench.

The Trojans advance to the NCAA Southeast Regional final to square off against second-seeded Montevallo with the winner advancing to Evansville, Ind. for the Elite Eight. That game will be played at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Tex Turner Arena.

Sunday’s loss brings Lincoln Memorial’s season to an abrupt halt, putting the finishing touches on the careers of seniors Ross, Keenan Peterson (College Park, Ga.) and C.J. Wakeley. That trio completes its tenure in the Blue and Gray with four South Atlantic Conference titles and the winningest stretch in program and SAC history with a 109-18 career record.

 

 

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