DEMOREST -- The Piedmont College men's basketball team sank a shot at the buzzer to battle North Carolina Wesleyan College into OT, but Chase England's 3-pointer rattled off the rim in today's 86-83 loss to the visiting Battling Bishops.
N.C. Wesleyan held a one-point edge at halftime and managed to hold on late after taking the lead with time winding down on a step-back three that handed the Lions their first loss at home in the Cave.
The action was scoreless until the 18:45 mark when North Carolina Wesleyan put up a two pointer that connected giving the Battling Bishops the early lead as the visitors spent much of the first half out in front taking control early.
With just over 11 minutes to go in the first, Piedmont's Safari Smith attempted to catch the Lions back up by answering with a layup of his own, but a three point bucket made by Marcus Williams for NC Wesleyan the next time down the floor put the Battling Bishops up nine, 21-12. In the first ten minutes, the visitors built a scoring percentage of 50 percent from downtown, hitting four out of their first eight three point attempts.
However, Piedmont continued to battle at home until a jumper from youngster Chase England brought the Lions level with less than five minutes left in the half at 30 all. But the tie did not last long as the Battling Bishops connected once again from beyond the arc to surge in front 33-30 on their next possession.
Free throws from Piedmont kept the men in the game until just over three minutes left when the Lions finally took the lead for the first time with a two pointer from Chris Meeks with an assist from teammate Safari Smith, his second up to that point. Coming back again from distance was NC Wesleyan all-star Josh Morrison who bested his season average of better than 17 per with 21 points this afternoon in the Cave putting on a show with late heroics in the second half.
Morrison's three lifted the Battling Bishops back in front as they would go on to hold a slim 40-39 lead at the halftime break in Cave Arena. Over the first 20 minutes, NC Wesleyan picked up scoring from everywhere to shoot better than 51% from the field including a six of 17 mark from downtown as the Lions fought to keep pace getting to the line for 17 free throws in the first half making all but one.
The first score of the second half came from the Battling Bishops' Devontae Williams as he knocked down a two-point bucket to push the visitors' lead to three. The second half though featured eight lead changes and six ties in a back-and-forth chess match of two well-prepared teams who pushed the limits in the USA South showdown.
A three-pointer with under 12 minutes remaining from newcomer Jordyn Propst off the bench put Piedmont in the lead at 64-62 though two NC Wesleyan free throws tied the action back up just over 30 seconds later. No team would push more than a three-point, one possession lead then for close to nine minutes until Devontae Williams' tip-in for NC Wesleyan made it a four-point margin for the Battling Bishops with 3:25 to play.
The Lions chipped away at the lead until England's jumper with 1:52 remaining forced the 10th tie of the game at 81-81 now with each team having chances down the stretch to win it. With both teams seeing possessions over the next minute-plus not provide any results, it was NC Wesleyan's star for the season that showed up big stepping back with a hand in his face to drain a three-pointer with 40 seconds remaining.
After that crushing blow, Piedmont would have not lost any respect to fall by the wayside with Morrison's heroics looking like they might end the day for PC. However, an acrobatic layup by PC's Jessie Jenkins with 21 seconds to go made the visitors' lead just one and the in-bounds coming for NC Wesleyan.
Tossing a home run entry pass, Battling Bishop Marcus Williams found his way behind the PC defense was fouled with the call coming in on as a flagrant one as Safari Smith tried to prevent Williams from the breakaway layup. With that, Williams hit one of two free throws as the Bishops got the ball back as well with Piedmont forced to put the hero Morrison to the line where he connected on just one of two to push the lead to three, 86-83.
In a one-possession game with less than 10 seconds on the clock, first-year Head Coach Greg Neeley called freshman Chase England's number on the ensuing in-bound as the youngster got a cloudy look at a three. His effort rattled off the rim however and fell to the floor as the Battling Bishops celebrated their escape from the Cave, 86-83.
Leading the way with a season-high 20 points was veteran player Jessie Jenkins as he shot 7-of-9 from the field and was six of seven from the charity stripe on the afternoon all while pulling down a half dozen boards as well, third-most on the team for the day. Jenkins had twice scored 18 on the year and posted 19 in PC's last time at home more than a month ago in a win over Berry, but had yet to crest the 20-point mark on the year until today.
Shooting 50% for his 17 points was Alton Honors II who was keyed in on by the Battling Bishops defense as the junior was able to go a perfect 7-for-7 at the free throw line to make the stingy NC Wesleyan defense pay for any miscues or contact. Youngster Chase England had 16 points and nine boards which led the team on the glass coming up just one rebound shy of his first career double-double for the green and gold, a mark which would have been just the second by a Lion in 2013-14.
England hit on one of Piedmont's three three-pointers of the day as they struggled to shoot the ball from beyond the arc compared to a Battling Bishops squad who shot just shy of 40% from downtown, their best such mark since a 50% performance in a loss at Mary Washington back on November 26th, 2013. The visitors hit four of their first eight attempts from distance to rattle the Lions early who did well to keep the game steady and even it out just before halftime.
With the loss, Piedmont drops back to even on the season at 6-6 while seeing their USA South home opener spoiled to move to 1-1 in league play. The Lions also fall for the first time in Cave Arena this season having posted a perfect 3-0 mark up until today in the three-point loss.
PC now will have a few days to recover from the away-home weekend in conference play that saw the Lions cover nearly 700 miles for the weekend. Piedmont gets back on the court with their next game, an away contest at Methodist University with the tipoff in that contest set for 4 p.m.