MARS HILL, N.C. – The Mars Hill men's basketball team built a double-digit halftime lead but was unable to close the deal, falling to Carson-Newman 76-71 on Saturday, December 31. MHU drops to 3-9 overall and 1-5 in the SAC, while the Eagles improved to 7-5 overall and 4-2 in the league.
Indiana Rotondo knocked down a corner three to open the game and the Lions quickly raced out to an 8-2 lead early in the first half. A frantic pace coupled with hot shooting from Mars Hill pushed the Blue and Gold ahead by double-digits (16-6), forcing a timeout by C-N at the 12:23 mark. Following the brief hiatus the Eagles ripped off 11 consecutive points to take their first lead of the contest at 17-16 with just over nine minutes remaining in the opening stanza.
The Lions showed much resiliency as Rotondo continued to tickle the twine with two more bombs and Bennett Wilson and Charles Moore added triples of their own to cap off a 12-0 spurt, reestablishing a comfortable 30-19 lead with 4:18 remaining before the intermission. After Carson-Newman cut the deficit to 33-26 the Lions collected the final five points of the half to head to the locker room with a 38-26 advantage.
Prodigious three-point shooting by Mars Hill in the first half helped to build the 20-minute margin. The Lions, who shoot 31% from distance for the season, knocked down 9-of-20 from beyond the arc (45%).
Carson-Newman opened the second half with a 10-2 run to narrow the score to 40-36 with just over three minutes elapsing off the clock. Luke Van-Rijn put a stop to that run with a three from the right corner. The Eagles continued to chip away at the Mars Hill lead, eventually taking a one-point lead at 44-43 with 12:30 left in the contest, following back-to-back threes.
After a trio of lead changes Carson-Newman built its biggest lead of the contest at 51-45 with 10 minutes to go in regulation. That lead quickly grew to double-digits (58-48) as the Lions could not find any rhythm on the offensive end of the ball.
With the score at 66-52 in favor of the Eagles, Mars Hill ran off an 8-0 spurt to trail 66-60 with three minutes to play. After C-N pushed the lead back to nine (70-61) Wilson went on a personal 7-0 run in less than one minute to bring the Lions to within a single possession (70-68). Wilson started the scoring with a rare four-point play followed by a triple from the top of the key.
A free throw from Charles Moore trimmed the score to 70-69 with under a minute to play, but that was as close as the Lions would get, falling to the visiting Eagles by a final of 76-71.
Wilson led the Lions with 17 points, while Vernon Jackson and Brandon Watkins added 12 and 10 points, respectively. The Lions finished the contest with a 39% clip from the floor (23-59). Carson-Newman held advantages in points in the paint (38-16), points off turnovers (24-19), second chance points (16-10) and fast break points (12-6).
The Lions will return to action on Wednesday, January 4 as they travel to Harrogate, Tenn. to take on Lincoln Memorial in a South Atlantic Conference tilt. Tipoff is scheduled for 8 p.m.