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Averett men’s basketball just misses upset of №12 Emory in NCAA First Round

Rowell led Averett with a team-high 14 points while Sellars finished close behind with 13 and juniors Bryson McLaughlin and Corey Baldwin chipped in with nine apiece. Baldwin led the team in rebounding with seven boards while adding three assists as well. Lewis led the team in assists with four while also pulling down five rebounds …

Averett University men’s basketball junior Jalen Rowell looks for space against Hampden-Sydney College earlier this season. PHOTO: Davin Wilson/River City Sports.

ATLANTA, Ga. — Averett University’s men’s basketball team made №12 Emory University sweat the whole way, but in the end, Emory held on for a 65–60 win Friday night in the NCAA Tournament First Round.

After a neck-and-neck second half, Emory (20–5) created a bit of space when Nick Stuck nailed a 3-pointer that gave the Eagles a 61–53 lead with 3:44 remaining in the game. Wanting to hand Emory the upset and continue dancing, Averett (17–12) countered with a string of seven consecutive points to pull within one on junior Jalen Rowell’s 3-pointer with 1:05 on the clock.

Stuck struck again for the Eagles when he knocked down his jumper in the paint that increased Emory’s lead to 63–60 with 47 seconds remaining. The Cougars answered with a highly contested layup they couldn’t quite land, and Matthew Schner picked up the defensive board, forcing Averett to foul. With 12 seconds remaining, Max Fried knocked down both free throw attempts that gave the Eagles a five-point lead and led to the final score.

Emory moves on to face №15 Wabash College in Saturday’s NCAA Round of 32. Wabash handed №21 Berry College a 91–79 loss in Friday’s opening game at Emory.

During Tuesday’s NCAA selection show, the association’s commentator commented on how everyone was looking to Averett’s USA South Conference rival Maryville College to advance to the 2022 tournament, showing how many were sleeping on the Cougars.

Averett opened a few eyes against Emory as it gave the perennial contender all it could handle.

“Their spirit and their connectedness and their toughness, it came through on film,” said Emory coach Jason Zimmerman. “And that’s hard to do sometimes. So we knew we were in for a fight tonight.”

Averett coach David Doino commented on his team’s grit and heart Friday night.

“I’m really proud of your guys,” Doino said. “Tremendous effort. Tremendous heart. We didn’t stop at any point. There were a couple of times [Emory’s lead] got to seven or eight, and I thought at home in the tournament, that’s usually the time the home team makes a run. And our guys just never stopped fighting. For that, I’m extremely proud. This is going to hurt a little bit right here because we had opportunities.”

Playing against a nationally-ranked opponent on its home court, Averett wasn’t intimidated by Emory and took an early 8–5 on junior Jalen Rowell’s jumper off an assist from sophomore Jordan Lewis. The Eagles responded with six straight points to take an 11–8 lead on Logan Shanahan’s layup in the paint with just over 15 minutes remaining in the first half.

Schner built Emory’s lead to 24–19 with his jumper midway through the quarter, but Averett closed the half with a 7–2 run to take a 26–25 lead into the break on Rowell’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The postseason excitement continued in the second half as the two sides played to nine lead changes and four ties in the opening six minutes.

Cale Martens started the frame with a pair of free throws that gave the Eagles a 27–26 lead, but Rowell answered back with a jumper in the paint that put the Cougars back in front. Martens struck again with a jumper in the paint that gave Emory a 29–28 lead, but Rowell punched back again with his bucket that put Averett back on top.

Free throws often play a big role in the postseason and Fried proved the point, knocking down a pair of freebies to put the Eagles in front, 31–30, with just over 18 minutes remaining. Sophomore Jason Sellars II put Averett back in front, 32–31, with his layup in the paint, and Fried kept the back-and-forth going with his jumper in the paint that made it a 33–32 contest.

From there, the Cougars scored six of the next seven to take a 38–37 lead on junior Bryson McLaughlin’s free throw with 14:29 on the clock.

The contest seemed to be heading in Emory’s favor as it responded with a 10–3 run to take a 47–41 lead on Fried’s 3-pointer with 9:44 left in the contest. As it did often down the stretch, Averett punched back and trimmed its deficit to 54–51 on Sellars’ free throw with just over five minutes on the clock.

Rowell led Averett with a team-high 14 points while Sellars finished close behind with 13 and McLaughlin and junior Corey Baldwin chipped in with nine apiece. Baldwin led the team in rebounding with seven boards and threw in three assists as well while Lewis led the team in assists with four and pulled down five rebounds.

Schner led Emory with a game-high 27 points while Stuck chipped in with 12 and Fried added 11 to give the Eagles three players in double-digit scoring. Martens narrowly missed a double-double, scoring eight points and recording a game-high 16 rebounds.

Despite starting the season 2–8, Averett won the USA South Conference East Division regular season and followed with a USA South Tournament Championship to clinch the program’s fifth trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“That’s what I told our guys in the locker room at the end,” Doino said. “If our culture can stay and grow from this, I’m really happy with the direction our program is going.”

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