VIRGINIA BEACH, VA --- It was only fitting that Wednesday night's men's basketball game at Virginia Wesleyan had a wild ending.
EMU's DJ Hill (Woodbridge, Va./Hylton) grabbed an offensive rebound and put in a jumper in the lane, breaking a deadlocked score with 1.4 seconds left. But it took a deflection and steal from teammate Sammy Thomas (Owings, Md./Northern) to clinch the 68-66 road win at Virginia Wesleyan.
The Runnin Royals pick up a big-time ODAC road win with the decision, improving to 9-8 overall and 4-4 in the ODAC. Virginia Wesleyan falls to 7-10 overall and 5-3 in the conference.
The late heroics saved the men after they gave up a double digit lead to the Marlins. EMU led by as many as 10 points after a huge start to the second half. The Royals were still up 64-54 after a Thomas bucket with 5:14 to play.
Virginia Wesleyan then scored the next seven points, and after two EMU free throws, the Marlins kept coming. A three pointer from Jordan White capped a 12-2 run, tying the score up at 66-66 with 1:14 remaining.
After the teams traded missed shots, Tim Jones (Forestville, Md./Central) pushed the ball up the floor and drove to the right side of the lane with less than 10 seconds left. Drawing the defense, his deflected pass to the weak side ended up in the hands of Jamel Howard (Leesburg, Va./Tuscarora), but the junior's leaner was blocked with four ticks left. The rebound went straight to Hill, who floated in the game-winner.
The Marlins still had to go the length of the floor with 1.4 left in the clock, but the 6'7" Thomas guarded the ball and swatted the pass in the air, grabbing it as time expired.
Despite holding a big lead in the second, Eastern Mennonite faced their own double digit deficit in the first half. VWU scored the first five points of the game and quickly went up 18-8. The margin was as big as 13 points, at 30-17, before the Royals trimmed it to 39-33 at halftime.
The momentum carried into the second, started by a big three pointer from Travis Clower (Romney, W.V./Hampshire). Jones hit a layup and Howard put in a triple, capping an 8-0 start for EMU's first lead of the night at 41-39.
EMU's defense limited the Marlins to just one field goal over the first nine minutes of the second, and Clower's three-point play with 10:56 to go finished off a 22-6 streak, blowing open a 55-45 lead.
VWU answered with a 9-2 jab to get within 57-54, but Clower dumped in a clutch three to start a quick 7-0 run in the span of 1:29, bumping the margin back to 64-54 and setting up the dramatic finish.
The Royals simply locked down their hosts on the defensive end, out-shooting them 46% to 32%. The men held the Marlins to only 8-for-33 shooting in the crucial second half, making up for a -6 turnover margin and 14 VWU offensive rebounds.
Jones notched team highs with 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Hill tied his career high with 14 points and added five boards. Clower finished with 12 points and three assists.
Howard scored nine points, while Thomas tallied eight. Tariq Caldwell (Richmond, Va./Lee-Davis) came close to a double double with nine rebounds and eight points.
Lamont Steward led Virginia Wesleyan with 16 points and eight rebounds, but shot just 5-for-18 from the floor. White hit five triples off the bench for 15 points.
The Runnin Royals return to Yoder Arena on Saturday, hosting No. 17 Lynchburg (15-1/6-1 ODAC).