With the Appalachian Athletic Conference men’s basketball standings extremely tight, the final regular-season contests are proving crucial to several teams vying for a spot in the upcoming conference tournament. On Wednesday night, Bryan came out on top in a meeting at home against Point University (Ga.) 79-72, moving the Lions to 12-10 in the AAC and an even 13-13 overall. As of right now, Bryan holds down the No. 6 spot, but two games remain on the schedule and Point, Tennessee Wesleyan University and Bluefield College (Va.) are all 11-10 in the conference while Kentucky Christian University sits at 11-11.
Columbia International University (S.C.) is barely situated above Bryan at 12-9. Even the top spot in the standings are close with Montreat College (N.C.) and Union College (Ky.) an identical 15-6 in conference play.
In such a competitive race, the Lions downing the Skyhawks helped keep their hopes at post-season play alive. A trio of Bryan players finished with double-figures, led by Brandon Thomas’ team-high 18 points and 9 rebounds on 9-of-16 shooting. Isaiah McClain came through for the Lions with a solid performance, delivering 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including 2-for-2 from three-point land. KJ Hawkins followed with 10 points, 4 rebounds, and a team-best 3 assists. The duo of Justin Warner and Noah Mulaski matched each other with 8 points each, both AJ Jones and Keaton Dotson posted 7 points apiece, Trey Spencer chipped in 4 points, and Chris Bradford rounded out the scoring with 2 points.
It was a back-and-forth fight in the opening period with both sides creating nine ties and four lead changes. Despite Point connecting on 46 percent of their attempts in the first half, Bryan bettered them shooting nearly 57 percent in securing the lead going into halftime. Five minutes in the scored was evened up 10-10, and the Skyhawks soared out front with a three-pointer. Point maintained an advantage the next four minutes before Bryan closed the gap with a five-point swing off Spencer’s made second-chance bucket in the paint and McClain’s trey to tie the game 19-19. The ties continued at 21’s, 27’s, 29’s, and 31’s before Dotson took his turn behind the arc with a make that put the Lions on top 34-31. Bryan was determined to have the edge at the break, and when the buzzer sounded, the Lions led 42-38.
Even though the deficit never reached double-digits and three tied points occurred in the second half, Bryan never let Point back in the driver’s seat. The first deadlock was at 13:41 with the count 48-48. Thomas scored back-to-back baskets underneath, but the Skyhawks answered back with a 4-0 run to tie the game 52-52. Thomas and Mulaski helped create numerous 4-point leads until Point managed to tie the game back up at 60-60 with 6:25 left to play. Bryan’s play over the next three and a half minutes is what helped the Lions prevail, as the home team outscored the Skyhawks 10-1 to lead 70-61. Point slimmed the margin to four points, 72-68, just under the minute mark, but Hawkins went to the foul line and was successful on both tries. Bryan came away with a big defensive stop, and Jones corralled Point’s miss where he was fouled and sank both free throws. The Skyhawks scored twice in the final seconds, but Jones tacked on three more foul shots in helping the Lions hold on to win 79-72.
Two more challenging opponents await Bryan to conclude the regular-season; the Lions travel to (RV) Montreat this weekend before returning home next week to take on the AAC’s No. 3 team Milligan College (Tenn.) on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The Lions and Montreat Cavaliers are scheduled to tip-off at 4pm this Saturday, Feb. 15. Bryan dropped their earlier matchup with Montreat 93-81.
To view the full 2019-20 Bryan men's basketball schedule, click here
Follow the Lions men's basketball team on Twitter @bcmbasketball and Instagram @bclionsmensbasketball.