The Belmont Abbey men's basketball team used a late push to cut the University of Mount Olive lead down to just four with 50 seconds left, but the Trojans connected on four of five free throws down to the stretch to pull away and hold on for a 78-71 victory this evening inside the Wheeler Center.
Mount Olive improves to 5-4 overall and 2-1 in the league, while the Crusaders fall to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in Conference Carolinas.
Belmont Abbey's largest deficit was 15 points, but that was midway through the first half as the Crusaders stayed within reaching distance of the Conference Carolinas preseason favorite.
Trailing 22-7 with 11:39 to go in the first, Belmont Abbey caught up with a 19-9 run to close the half to slice the halftime deficit down to 31-25.
Sophomore forward Deion Lane, who finished with 24 points, netted 16 in the opening 20 minutes, including the Crusaders first seven of the game.
After Mount Olive and Belmont Abbey shot 44 and 37 percent, respectively, from the field in the first half, the offenses came alive in the second. The Trojans converted at a 57 percent clip and the Crusaders shooting 52 percent as the two teams combined for 93 points in the final 20 minutes, with Mount Olive edging the Crusaders 47-46.
The Trojans maintained their lead, building it to as high as 12 points before Belmont Abbey used a late spurt to keep the game close.
After a Dontrell Brite three pointer with 2:17 to play moved the Trojans lead to 71-60, Belmont Abbey battled back with a 9-2 run to chop the deficit down to just four at 73-69 with 50 seconds left. Markel Pollard swished a three pointer, followed by two Lane free throws, and then Pollard capped the run with two free throws to cut Trojans lead to four.
Over the limit, Belmont Abbey fouled on the next Mount Olive possession, and Jacque Brown pushed the lead to six with 42 seconds left.
The Crusaders turned the ball over on their next trip and Brite sank one of two free throws to extend the lead back to seven with 28 ticks left.
Pollard gave the Abbey one final chance with a fast break layup with 20 seconds left to close the lead to five, but Brite closed the scoring with two free throws at the 17 second mark to seal the win.
The Crusaders shot 47 percent as Lane led the way with 24 points on 8-12 shooting. He added six rebounds, three steals and an assist. Nick Hough and Ray Chen both added 15 points. Chen handed out three assists with Hough recording a pair. Pollard finished with nine points.
Belmont Abbey is off for one week during exams and will return to the court next Saturday when traveling to UNC Greensboro for an exhibition.