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Missed chances: Bishops blow late lead in tough conference loss

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N.C. Wesleyan College's Chris Braswell, center, drives to the basket as Methodist University's Rae Hall, left, defends Wednesday at Everett Gymnasium.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On Wednesday against conference opponent Methodist University, N.C. Wesleyan held leads of 15 points with 14 minutes left, 16 points with nine minutes left, 10 points with six minutes left and four points with 25 seconds left.

None of them were enough to finally bury the Lions.

Visiting Methodist (8-2, 3-0 USA South), held to just 26 points in the first half, awakened its previously mundane offense for a 33-17 run over the final nine minutes of regulation that materialized after a defensive press and zone changed the tempo of the game.

Down 83-79 with 25 seconds left, the Lions used a score and foul, then a driving layup with just two seconds to send the game into overtime tied at 84. Between those two plays, NCWC’s Adrian Moore and Chris Braswell had chances to potentially ice the game, but each missed one of their two free throws.

In the extra period, the Bishops (4-5, 2-2 USA South) briefly grabbed a one-point lead on a banked-in three-pointer by Moore, but the Lions closed out the final 90 seconds after that on an 8-0 run, winning the game, 98-91, leaving NCWC coach John Thompson and his players looking for words on a second half that went from a possible formality to a devastating conference loss.

“The feeling is misery,” said Thompson, whose Bishops allowed 72 points in the second half and overtime. “Anger, disappointment. We gave up 58 points in a half. Way, way too many. We did not do a good job in the second half on the defensive glass. Too many second chances.”

MU’s top three scorers -- Davion Ayabarreno, Jackson Whitley and Bryan Rouse -- finished with 22, 22 and 21, respectively, including a combined 41 in the second half and overtime, but the leading scorer was NCWC’s A.J. Frye, whose post moves were a near-impossible cover for stretches of the game.

He finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds on 13 of 19 shooting, but was held to only two points in the final nine minutes, the same stretch of the game the Lions scored nearly at will and ran an effective zone on defense.

“That bothered them. It’s a zone they probably don’t see much,” MU coach David Smith said. “We stuck with it to the very end. We made it a little tougher for them to work the ball inside to (Frye).”

The Bishops got 17 from Robert Wilson, 15 from Adrian Moore and 10 from Braswell. As a team, they shot better than they did in the first half (48.6 percent compared to 53.3 percent), but the Lions’ hot shooting overshadowed the production on offense.

In overtime, MU jumped out to a quick four-point lead on four straight made free throws, but a basket by Frye and a steal and a layup from Moore knotted the game at 88. Rouse retook the lead on a jump shot, then came Moore’s three-pointer off the backboard.

But that stroke of luck was the final break for the Bishops, who didn’t score again and missed their final five shot attempts of the game.

“The upside is we dominated play for 35 minutes. That should be an indication of what we’re capable of,” Thompson said. “We have to do that all game -- 35 minutes is not enough. But its back to work, we don’t have time to hang our heads. We’ve got to play again on Saturday.”

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