FRANKLIN SPRINGS, Ga. — The No. 2 ranked Lee University Flames tasted defeat for only the second time this season, falling to 17th ranked Emmanuel College 68-65 Monday evening.
The clash of the top two teams in the Southern States Athletic Conference lived up to its billing, coming down to the final seconds of regulation. With the score tied at 65 and the shot clock running down, it looked as if the Flames had come up with the stop they needed. Luke Miller managed to regain possession for the Lions and threw up a prayer that was answered to give Emmanuel the 68-65 lead with just 1.7 seconds remaining.
Lee had a great look at tying the game. Having to go the length of the court the Flames drew up a play and found Jamorris Gaines across the half-court line. Gaines’ shot would hit harmlessly off the iron, however, sealing the victory for the host club.
Despite the loss, Lee owns the tiebreaker over Emmanuel and will still head into the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed. The victory does give the Lions a claim to a share of the regular season title with the Flames.
Lee appeared to be in control throughout the contest, leading 35-28 at the halftime break. The Lions wouldn’t grab their first lead of the game until the 5:10 mark of the second half. The Flames struggled shooting the ball from the field, finishing at just 33 percent. Emmanuel rebounded from poor shooting in the opening half to finish at 42 percent for the game.
“This was a difficult loss” admitted assistant coach David Vespie. “We’ve got to get better in the second half on the defensive end. We’ve got Thursday and hopeful Friday and Saturday coming up in the conference tournament. We’ll practice tomorrow and head down to Montgomery on Wednesday.”
Will Barnes led the way for the Flames with 12 points and five rebounds. The senior did most of his damage from the charity stripe, going a perfect 7-of-7 from the foul line. Junior Chase Dunn was the only other Lee player in double figures, finishing with 10 points. Corey Billingsley added eight points and three rebounds. Billingsley had the hustle play of the game for the Flames. With just 40 seconds remaining in the contest the sophomore blocked an Emmanuel shot and hustled down to finish at the other end, tying the game at 64.
“That was a great play on Corey’s (Billingsley) part,” acknowledged Vespie. “I wish we could have taken advantage of that momentum swing and finished out the victory.”
Steve Bennett tallied eight points and nine rebounds for the Flames. Jamorris Gaines and Duran Blue rounded out the Lee scoring, registering eight points apiece.
Much like the score, the stat line was similar for both clubs. The Lions held a slight 39-38 advantage in the rebounding department. The Flames were guilty of 13 floor mistakes compared to nine turnovers for Emmanuel. Lee outscored the Lions’ bench 25-21.
Emmanuel had five players finish in double-figure scoring. Adrian Justice led the way with 13 points and six rebounds. Jeremy Burges tallied 12 markers while Patrick McCrary, Michael Stanley and Luke Miller all added 10 points for the Georgia-based club.
With the loss the Flames move to 28-2 overall and 16-2 in the SSAC. The win moves Emmanuel to 27-3 on the year and 16-2 in conference play.
Lee will begin postseason play on Thursday in Montgomery, Ala. The Flames will face the winner of Loyola (La.) and Coastal Georgia. Tip time is set for 11:45 a.m.
The Flames were playing without Coach Tommy Brown on the sidelines. The Lee leader had to travel back to Tennessee to be with his mother, who was in surgery this morning.
“T.J. Rosene (Emmanuel Head Coach) is a class act. He gave Coach Brown his car to get him back to be with his family today,” said Vespie. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Mrs. Brown. She came through the surgery OK. We pray for a speedy recovery. She is our biggest fan.”