JEFFERSON CITY, TN - The seventh-ranked Railsplitters nearly rallied from 13-point second-half deficit but ultimately fell short in a stunning 77-79 loss to the Carson-Newman Eagles in South Atlantic Conference men's basketball action on Wednesday in Holt Fieldhouse.
Lincoln Memorial University's (17-2, 13-2 SAC) loss snapped a 13-game winning streak, which was the longest for the program since opening with 15-straight during the 2012-13 campaign. Carson-Newman (13-6, 10-5 SAC) picked up its third win in the last four games and snapped a three-game losing streak to the Railsplitters.
The Railsplitters shot below 40 percent for only the second time this season, as Carson-Newman's 2-3 zone defense held LMU to only 26-for-66 shooting (39.4 percent) in the contest. LMU's offensive struggles were most clearly illuminated in the first half, which saw the Railsplitters connect on only 11 of its 31 shot attempts. With that, the Railsplitters found themselves facing its largest halftime deficit of the season at 38-31. Ishmael Sanders' three-pointer as time expired capped Carson-Newman's 11-4 run to close the period. Luquon Choices' (Laurens, SC) three just prior to Sanders' half-ending trifecta was LMU's only field goal over the final seven minutes of the half.
LMU cut the deficit to 41-35 on a Chance Jones (Knoxville, TN) lay-up at the 18:52 mark, but the Eagles used a steady flow of easy scoring opportunities to keep the Railsplitters at bay. Five Carson-Newman lay-ups and four free throws over a more than nine-minute stretch extended the home team's lead to 62-49 as the game sunk under 10 minutes remaining.
Carson-Newman retained its 13-point edge with a Jared Johnson lay-up with 7:29 remaining, but the Railsplitters made a dent in that armor by scoring eight-unanswered points, capped with a Time Pierce (Albany, GA) three-ball to close the gap to 66-61 with 4:33 to play. Two Antoine Davis free throws and a three from Sanders pushed C-N's cushion back to 10 before Jones and Choice score eight-straight points for LMU to make it 71-69 with only 1:29 remaining.
In the final minute and change, the Eagles did just enough to hold on for the victory while withstanding a number of potential game-winning opportunities for the Railsplitters. Carson-Newman scored its final eight points at the free-throw line, going 8-for-12 in the final 1:30. The Railsplitters, meanwhile, missed two separate potential game-tying threes down the stretch. But, Curtis Webb (Spartanburg, SC) put LMU within one on a three-pointer in the waning seconds. Jared Johnson was fouled in the ensuing in-bounds pass, and he missed on the back end of that trip to the charity stripe. LMU senior Vincent Bailey (Jennings, FL) collected the rebound, but the Railsplitters' last-ditch heave came up empty.
Seniors Chance Jones and Vincent Bailey, along with redshirt-freshman Luquon Choice, carried the LMU attack, as that trio combined for 48 of LMU's 77 points. No other Railsplitter finished with more than eight points in the affair.
Bailey posted 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and a steal in 30 minutes of action, tallying his third-straight double-double and fourth in the last five games. Jones posted 17 points despite an off night from the field, where he finished 6-for-18. Choice cashed in four three-pointers to accumulate 15 points on the night. Tim Pierce was LMU's next highest scorer, notching eight points and four assists.
The Eagles finished with the most efficient offensive outing for an LMU opponent during the 2013-14 campaign, as C-N tallied a 24-for-51 mark (47.1 percent) and clanged in 26 of its 35 free-throw attempts.
Carson-Newman's trio out produced the Railsplitters' three-headed attack by a wide margin, as Ishmael Sanders, Antoine Davis and Jared Johnson accounted for 62 of their team's points. Sanders scored a game-high 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting, while Davis went 10-for-10 from the line en route to a 20-point outburst. Johnson tallied 17 points, six rebounds and four assists.
The Railsplitters accumulated a 41-31 edge on the glass, but the Eagles outscored LMU in the paint 32-28. 12 offensive rebounds accounted for 17 second-chance points for the Railsplitters. Carson-Newman's second unit mustered only five points, while Choice paced LMU's bench to 28 points.
Lincoln Memorial will look to rebound on Saturday, February 8 with an 8 p.m. South Atlantic Conference draw against the Newberry College Wolves. Saturday also serves as LMU's annual Play 4Kay night, which raises money towards breast cancer research for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund. The Railsplitters are also looking to sweep the season series against the Wolves after a 102-87 win in Newberry on December 15.