MARS HILL, N.C. – Sophomore guard Vernon Jackson poured in a game-high 25 points to lead the Mars Hill men's basketball team to an opening-night 88-77 win over visiting Belmont Abbey during the first day of the SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge on Friday night.
Jackson shot a blistering 11-16 from the field, including 2-3 from beyond the arc, while Valentin Bauer dished out 11 assists. Bennett Wilson provided much-needed offense in addition to Jackson, pouring in 18 points. Dotson Griffin just missed a double-double with 12 points to go along with seven boards. As a team the Blue and Gold connected on 49-percent (32-65) of its field goals on the evening.
Deion Lane led the Crusaders with 20 points, while Drexler Clark and Jacob Wilson chipped in 19 and 16 points, respectively.
The early portion of the first half was a back-and-forth affair. Belmont Abbey ran out to a 5-2 lead, but a shot from distance by Jackson knotted the score at five-all. Another bomb from Jackson coupled with a pair of baskets from Brandon Watkins fueled a 9-4 run by the Lions, putting them ahead 14-9. Seven straight by the Crusaders pushed them to the front 16-14 before a triple from Bauer pushed the Lions back in front.
With the score deadlocked at 27, Mars Hill turned defense into offense on two consecutive possessions, reeling off four in a row to take a 31-27 lead with just over seven minutes remaining in the half. BAC knocked down two free throws with 14 seconds left to head to the locker room down 39-37. Jackson led the Lions offensively in the first half with 11 points, while also pulling down a team-high six boards.
Unselfish basketball by the Lions to start the second half ballooned the lead to the biggest of the evening at 59-46, capped off by a monstrous two-handed jam by Dotson Griffin off a beautiful lob from Wilson. The Lions assisted on seven of their first eight baskets to start the second frame.
The Crusaders cut the deficit to 60-51 with a mini 5-1 run, but a shot from downtown by Collin Hartman pushed the lead back to double-digits. Belmont Abbey once again cut the lead to single digits at 70-61 until an acrobatic hoop and harm by Bauer cushioned the margin to 72-61 with six minutes left in regulation.
From that point the Lions played quality basketball down the stretch, fending off several attempts of a Belmont Abbey comeback.
The Lions will take on Limestone during the final day of the conference challenge tomorrow evening at 6 p.m. The Saints dropped the earlier game today to SAC opponent Wingate by the score of 77-69. Shaq Dance recorded a game-high 31 points in the losing effort for the Saints.