BANNER ELK, N.C -- No. 8-seeded Belmont Abbey overcame a 14-point second-half deficit to take a 64-63 lead with under six minutes to play, but second-seeded Lees-McRae outscored the Crusaders 9-0 over the next five-and-a-half minutes to earn a 75-72 victory in the 2018 Conference Carolinas Championship Game.
The decision ended an improbable run with upsets of the No. 1 and No. 5 seeds, marking the first time in the NCAA era that Conference Carolinas had a No. 8 seed make the final.
Even after the run, which saw The Abbey down eight, 72-64 with 27 seconds left, the Crusaders had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer.
Deion Lane led five players in double figures with 16 points, adding 10 rebound for his 11th double-double of the season. He finished his career with 1,568 points, good for 11th all-time. DeQuan Abrom tallied 14 points and six rebounds, while a trio -- ThankGod Avar, Myron Carmon and Jacob Wilson -- added 10 each. Lepreece Lynch of Lees-McRae led all scorers with 17 points en route to Tournament MVP honors.
In the second half, the Bobcats went up 55-41 with 13:05 to play before a furious rally. Lane scored four points in a row, then answered two free throws with a conventional three-point play to bring the margin back to within single digits, 57-48, at the 10:37 mark.
After another pair of Lynch free throws, Avar had a monstrous put-back dunk, then Abrom added four in a row to bring the deficit back to five, 59-54. Lynch hit the Bobcats' 12th three-pointer of the contest with 8:38 remaining The Abbey's final surge. Six straight points cut the margin two, 62-60 before the Bobcats went back up three on a free throw with 6:32 left.
Lane buried a three 15 seconds later to even the game at 63-63, then Aidan Richard hit the second of two free throws to put The Abbey ahead for the first since an early 4-2 lead.
But from there, the Bobcats hit 12 of 16 free throws to preserve the victory. The Abbey made a final gasp when Wilson hit a layup with four seconds left to cut the lead to 75-72, then Abrom made a steal but was unable to take a reasonable three at the buzzer.
Lees-McRae bolted to a 13-4 lead in the first 5:22 on the heels of three three-pointers. Carmon stopped the 11-0 run with a three for the Crusaders at the 13:19 mark, but a conventional three-point play and another shot from long range helped the Bobcats to its first double-digit margin, 21-9 with 9:22 left.
Four straight points started a 10-3 run that cut the margin to 24-19. LMC hit back-to-back threes around a Carmon three to push the lead back to eight, 30-22, but Pollard connected on a jumper before a Wilson three to pull the Crusaders within three. A Pollard free throw with 2:55 left further cut the margin to 30-28, but Lees-McRae ended the half on a 12-0 run to lead 40-28 at the break.
Abrom and Wilson were selected to the all-tournament team at the conclusion of the contest.
The Crusaders finish the season 12-19.