MOC men shocked by Erskine
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 3, 2009 1:47 PM
MOUNT OLIVE -- Mount Olive's players gathered at midcourt, said their customary game-ending prayer and walked to the locker room in disbelief.
Their NCAA tournament bubble had burst.
Seventh-seeded Erskine (S.C.) College allowed the Trojans to convert just five field goals in the final seven minutes and escaped with a shocking, 54-52 victory Monday evening at Kornegay Arena.
The Flying Fleet (11-18 overall) snapped a 13-game losing streak to Mount Olive and travels to third-seeded Belmont Abbey in the Conference Carolinas tournament semifinals Thursday.
The Trojans finished their roller-coaster season 18-10 overall.
"Erskine plays possession and makes you guard more one-on-one with shooters all over the floor," said MOC head coach Joey Higginbotham. "They spread you out ... it's tough to guard and defensively, they pack it in. If you're not making outside shots, it's going to be a grind."
Erskine's deliberate attack exhausted 25-plus seconds off the shot clock on each possession and disrupted the normal up-tempo style that Mount Olive prefers to play. The Trojans failed to score in transition and couldn't set up their pressure defense, which usually creates more offense.
Although Mount Olive shot 52 percent from the floor in the second half, it couldn't get the necessary defensive stops in the closing minutes. Flying Fleet guard Dejan Nedelkovski converted two three-point plays within a 30-second span to help the visitors achieve the stunning, quarterfinal-round upset.
"We've been stopping 30 (Nedelkovski) all night long and the next thing you know he's getting (too) deep in the paint," said Higginbotham.
Nedelkovski's second conventional three-point play boosted Erskine's advantage to 53-49. Justin Melton answered with a 3-pointer off Kendrick Easley's assist to make it 53-52.
The Flying Fleet misfired on their next possession and Higginbotham called timeout with 27.8 seconds left in regulation. The Trojans put the ball in play and tried to get it into Craig Hayes' hands.
Erskine forward Nick Riley grabbed Hayes' jersey and in an attempt to pull away, Hayes was called for a pushing foul. Riley hit the first free throw, but missed his second attempt and Mike Holloman rebounded.
"That was a huge call," said Higginbotham.
Down 54-52, MOC burned its final timeout.
When play resumed, neither Easley nor Melton could find open looks on the perimeter. With five seconds left, Easley tried to thread a pass between two Erskine defenders to Holloman underneath the basket.
But the pass was deflected and time expired as Mount Olive's players scrambled for the loose ball. Erskine's players celebrated near the scorer's table as Mount Olive's fans headed toward the exit.
"We had a chance to get ball in the basket, but were looking for a 3 only," said Higginbotham. "In hindsight, maybe we should have attacked the basket and kept the other team on their heels defensively.
"Like I told my guys in the locker room, it's easy to be upset and point the finger, but the things the team has done this year with the adversity we've been through ... I'm proud of them.
"(But) to see our two seniors Mouse (Melton) and Chris (Holloway) lose this way is tough."
Mount Olive started its injury-riddled season 2-6, but rebounded to win 16 of its final 20 games. The Trojans earned their second straight Conference Carolinas regular-season championship and spent several weeks ranked in the Southeast Region poll.
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