Rivalry games always have a little something special about them, and Tuesday night was no exception when Eastern Mennonite hosted rival Bridgewater in an ODAC Tournament First Round game. The Runnin Royals scored the 15 in the game, but trailed at halftime before running away with a 79-65 decision.
Seventh-seeded EMU heads into the ODAC Quarterfinals where they will play second-seeded Randolph-Macon. The two teams have also developed a rivalry in the last few years, including R-MC winning twice this year on buzzer-beating three pointers.
The ODAC Quarterfinal matchup will be at 6:00pm Friday night at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, VA.
But Tuesday night, the Runnin Royals had to take care of their fiercest rivals.
In the opening minutes, the game looked like a blowout. R.J. Sims (Fort Washington, MD/Friendly) personally scored the first eight points of the contest and EMU zipped to a 15-0 lead.
Bridgewater regrouped, however, and used a 16-2 run to tie the score at 28-28 with 5:28 to go in the half. The Royals got back in front, but BC drew a charge with five seconds left and then nailed a three pointer at the buzzer to take their first lead of the night, 35-34 going into halftime.
EMU came out strong in the second and never looked back. Andrew Thorne (Front Royal, VA/Skyline) scored the first four points to put the men back in front. Owen Longacre (Telford, PA/Christopher Dock) banked in a three pointer to increase the lead to 48-38 with 13:10 left.
A Ronnie Thomas (Roanoke, VA/Patrick Henry) jumper got the Eagles back to within five at 52-47, but then EMU unleashed a 14-4 run over a span of 2:27, blowing the lead to 66-51 with 6:09 left in the game. Thorne scored five straight in the run, followed by Sims scoring seven in a row.
Bridgewater never recovered from there as the Royals rolled out to the First Round win.
Thorne led all players with a career high 24 points, including 19 in the second half. The junior added eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.
EMU Coach Kirby Dean felt his team’s dry spell in the first half had something to do with Thorne sitting on the bench with two fouls.
“I thought we played really well except for that ten-minute stretch in the first half,” he said. “When Drew’s not in there we’re a different team. He’s doesn’t have to score to make us go. He’s really become a complete player. At halftime I second guessed myself on whether I should have left him in since we lost a 15-point lead. But at the end of the game when he took over I was happy to have him in there. He made me look smart.”
Sims didn’t look too shabby himself, as the smooth sophomore finished with 22 points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals. He was 4-for-6 from three point range.
Longacre added 11 points, five assists and two blocked shots. David Falk (Madison, VA/Madison) also had a pair of blocks. Point guard Dajon Daniel (Fredericksburg, VA/Mountain View) made his presence felt with a game high 12 rebounds, including seven offensive boards.
Aaron Adams (Ellicott City, MD/Centennial) led Bridgewater with 13 while Thomas charted 12 points and five assists. Ed Reddick (Virginia Beach, VA/Kellam) was good for 11 points.
Eastern Mennonite forced 23 turnovers while committing just 15 of their own. The Royals had only two in the second half. BC had a slight edge in shooting at 47% to 42%, but EMU erased that by dominating the boards, 47-30. The Runnin Royals also had 26 offensive rebounds.
Dean was ecstatic that his young team could win an ODAC Tournament game at home after such an up-and-down season.
“I’m pleased for them and happy for them,” Dean said of his players. “Of all the teams I’ve had, they’ve deserved some success after how hard they’ve worked and when you consider the heart-breaking losses they’ve had to persevere through. There has been no quit in these guys.”
Eastern Mennonite, now 12-14, seems to be gaining momentum at just the right time, taking a three-game winning streak to Salem. Three wins in the Salem Civic Center would earn the men a bid to the national tournament.
The ODAC Semifinals are Saturday evening with the Championship game Sunday afternoon.