Dayton, Tenn. – Brandon Cole (SR/Crossville, Tenn.) collected his fourth game this season with at least 30 points, but the Lions couldn't pull off the victory against the top-ranked Bulldogs of Union College (Ky.). The Lions hosted the Bulldogs in their Appalachian Athletic Conference opener, and both teams battled back and forth but 7th ranked Union prevailed 73-82.
Union proved to be a threat from long range after starting off the game with six straight points from back-to-back baskets behind the arc. The Lion's first points came from Cole who played a physical ballgame and hit his first two free throws, eventually going 11-12 from the line.
With the Lions down 2-8, the Bulldogs added to their lead with two additional three's. The Lions found themselves down 4-14, and it became a three-point competition as Jeff Long (SR/Hendersonville, Tenn.) and Tyler Yoder (SO/Crossville, Tenn.) answered back for Bryan with three-pointers of their own. Again, Union countered with two three-pointers, bringing Union's lead back up to ten.
At the halfway mark of the first half, Robert Troino (SR/Crossville, Tenn.) brought the Lions within three points after taking his turn behind the arc, which would be the closest the Lions would come to the Bulldogs for the duration of the first half. A last second shot by Union brought the score to 32-41 at the half.
Union started the second half with a 7-2 run, bumping the score to 34-48. Two minutes later the Lions got hot again from long distance as Troino hit a three-pointer and Yoder knocked down two three's in consecutive possessions for Bryan, cutting the deficit to seven.
With ten minutes left in the contest, the score stood at 53-67 in favor of Union. The Lions started to turn up the pressure as they put together one of their largest runs of the night, cutting the lead from 14 to three points with 11 unanswered points. The first six points came from Oteriah Lee (SO/Knoxville, Tenn.) who hit the shot from close range, made a free throw, and then followed it up with a basket from behind the arc. Cole took care of business at the free throw line by hitting both and then took his lone three-point shot of the night and drilled it to pull the Lions within three.
After nearly two and a half minutes passed the Bulldogs were able to put some points on the board. Yoder came back with another three-pointer to give the Lions a good opportunity for the upset, putting the score at 67-69 with seven minutes remaining. Union wasn't silenced as they regrouped and scored the next six straight points, jumping to an eight-point lead. For the last five minutes of play the Lions were unable to create any sort of run as the Bulldogs stayed close and answered any Lion's shot with a shot of their own, ultimately sealing the 73-82 Union victory.
Cole's points added to his lead as the AAC individual stats leader in points per game (30.6) and total points (184). Cole also grabbed eight rebounds last night as he sits in second place in the conference in total rebounds (67) and rebounds per game (11.1). The two other Lions who finished with double-digit scoring were Yoder (4-7 behind the arc) with 12 points and Lee (3-10) with ten total points. Lee led the team in assists with seven, while Brice Cusick (SO/Jefferson City, Tenn.) registered a team-high nine boards.
Both teams put together great shooting performances as Union finished 47% from the floor for the game, and Bryan ended the outing shooting 43%. Even with Bryan's notable 45% from the three-point line (9-20), Union topped the Lions shooting 54% from behind the arc (9-14 in the first half). Union also controlled the glass (39-27), especially on offense with 12 offensive rebounds compared to Bryan's three.
Bryan gave Union, a top team in the NAIA, a close look at an upset last night by battling it out until the final seconds of the game. Head Bryan College Lions Men's Basketball Coach, Don Rekoske explained, "The guys showed a lot of heart tonight, but we had some missed opportunities towards the end of the game. Against a good team, the margin of error is small. Union put together a great game, and their shooting from the outside is what really hurt us."
The Lions move to 3-3 overall and 0-1 in conference play, and they look to pick up their first AAC win on the road Saturday at 4pm against Reinhardt University (Ga.).
For the full Bryan Lions Men's Basketball schedule, visit bryanlions.com/mbb.