BRIDGEWATER, VA --- The Runnin Royals had their chances against nationally recognized North Central (Ill.) Saturday afternoon, but couldn't keep the Cardinals off the offensive glass in suffering a tough 70-68 loss at the Don Glick Classic. James Williams (Capitol Heights, Md./Archbishop Carroll) narrowly missed what would have been a game-winning three pointer at the buzzer, as Eastern Mennonite heads into a long Christmas break with a record of 5-4.
The Royals quickly scored the first four points in the game hosted by Bridgewater College, but North Central recovered and then used a 14-2 run to surge to a 27-14 lead. The Cardinals, who went to the Final Four last year and are receiving votes in the national poll this year, led at halftime, 38-28.
Fueled by better defense and outside shooting, EMU came alive in the second. Williams canned a pair of triples to slice the deficit to 40-36, and minutes later Ryan Yates (Alexandria, Va./T.C. Williams) bombed a three to take over the lead, 43-42. Yates added a layup on the next possession to cap a 17-2 run for the Royals, putting them ahead 45-42.
Marcel Crump (Richmond, Va./Highland Springs) converted a three-point play with 12:04 to go, giving the men their biggest lead of the game at 52-45.
North Central came back and five minutes later re-took the lead at 54-53. That's when the see-saw finish got rolling.
The Royals went back up by four at 64-60 with 3:03 left, but the Cardinals had a drawn-out 6-0 run to get back in front, 66-64. Crump re-tied it with a pair of free throws with 41.9 to play, but an EMU foul put North Central at the line. In the span of 19 seconds, the Cardinals went 3-of-6 from the free throw line, but added one significant offensive rebound, working to a 69-66 edge with 10.9 to go. Crump also missed a floating one-hander on the Royals' one possession in the span.
RJ Sims (Fort Washington, Md./Friendly) then dribbled the length of the floor for a layup with 5.3 to go, cutting the deficit back to one. After a quick foul, the Cardinals again made just 1-of-2 free throws, setting up Williams' last-second look. The point guard's heave from 30 feet out was tantalizingly on target, but it skimmed off the front and back of the rim before falling to the floor as time expired.
Eastern Mennonite shot a blazing 56% from the floor, despite making only 4-of-16 three pointers. North Central finished at 49%. NCC struggled from the free throw line, going just 11-23. But the Cardinals redeemed some of those misses by grabbing 19 offensive rebounds and dominating the boards, 36-21.
Crump hit 6-of-8 shots and all seven of free throws as he scored a team best 19. The junior also had four assists and four rebounds. Williams came in with 15 points and two steals, while Yates charted 13 points. David Falk (Madison, Va./Madison) had eight points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots. The EMU starters had 62 of the team's 68 points.
All-American Landon Gamble scored a game high 24 for North Central. Vince Kmiec scored 19 of his 20 points in the first half, when he hit all five of his three pointers.
Despite the loss, the Royals had a successful start to the season, going 5-4 despite breaking in four new starters. The men won both of the overtime games they played, and also split their two Old Dominion Athletic Conference contests.
EMU now has an 18-day layoff before hosting Virginia-Lynchburg on Jan. 3.