If close losses make you better down the road, Eastern Mennonite will become a force to be reckoned with come February. The Runnin Royals had their chances against talented Averett University in the final minutes but came up short in a 88-85 loss in Yoder Arena on Saturday afternoon.
EMU scored first on their home court off a three pointer from Isaiah Harris-Winn (Frederick, Md. / St. Maria Goretti). But Averett wasted no time in responding, using a 16-4 run to take the lead with 13:45 left in the first half.
At the 8:09 mark Tim Jones Jr. (Forestville, Md. / Central) came up with a steal, allowing Christian Hansen (Manassas Park, Va. / Osbourn Park) an opportunity at a fastbreak layup to bring the game back within two at 27-25.
From there, EMU exploded on an 11-4 run with help from RaShawn Latimer (Warrenton, Va. / Kettle Run) who tied the game up at 34-34 with a three pointer. After an Averett turnover, EMU found its first lead of the night when Latimer followed up his tying three with a jump shot to make it 36-34.
The Runnin Royals went into the half up 43-42 after shooting 60% (17-28) from the floor.
EMU came out firing and found its largest lead of the night at 61-50 with 13:26 left to play. The Royals began to run away with the lead until the Cougars scored on their next three possessions to bring that game back within reach.
Timothy Henry knotted a couple free throws to tie the game 81-81 with 3:15 to play. On their next possession, the Cougars found Henry again for a layup to put Averett in front 83-81- its first lead since the opening minutes of the second half.
The Royals inched back with help from back-to-back baskets from Sammy Thomas (Owings, Md. / Northern). But it was James Contreras Jr. who provided the tying layup with 1:11 to play. Unable to convert from beyond the arc, EMU lost the ball and gave the Cougars the advantage with 22 seconds left.
Following a timeout, EMU had a look at the game-winning 3-point attempt in the final seconds but was unable to cash in. Averett came up with the rebound and forced EMU to foul with 0.6 seconds remaining. Only one shot fell for the Cougars to extend Averett's lead to three, but with EMU needing to go the length of the court they were unable to get off a last-second shot.
EMU outshot the visitors 55% to 50% from the floor but was undone by second-chance points 22-9. The men finished with a 29.9% clip from outside, hitting only 8-of-27 three pointers. AU was just 7-for-17 on threes.
Latimer led EMU's scorers with 20 points. DJ Hill (Woodbridge. Va. / Hylton) had 16 points and four boards off the bench. Thomas finished with 12 and Harris-Winn added 11.
For Averett, Contreras Jr. finished with 24 points and six rebounds while Darin Ketner and Austin DeLucia each added 14.
The Royals, now 2-4 overall, will try to rebound from the week's pair of close losses by traveling to Emory & Henry on Tuesday night at 7:00pm.