HARRISONBURG, Va. - Bridgewater sophomore Ronnie Thomas snapped a 76-76 tie with a 3-pointer with just 21 seconds left as the Eagles rallied from an 11-point deficit to defeat rival Eastern Mennonite, 79-77, Wednesday night at Yoder Arena.
"This was a great team win. The guys just kept plugging along and playing hard," Bridgewater head coach Don Burgess said. "I'm telling you, this is a special group. These guys have gone through so much this year with all the injuries and for them to keep playing with this kind of effort is great to see."
EMU took its biggest lead of the second half when Andrew Thorne scored inisde to put the Royals on top 65-54 with 7:53 left to play.
Bridgewater still trailed by 10 points, 70-60, with 5:05 left, but then the Eagles started to whittle away at the EMU lead.
A 3-pointer by Kenneth Waugh trimmed the deficit to four 73-69 at the 3:02 mark. EMU's Owen Longacre then hit 1-of-2 at the line, but Tavis Stapleton answered with a pair of foul shots for the Eagles to make it a three-point game, 74-71 with 2:39 left.
Longacre added two more free throws before Waugh knocked down another long 3-pointer to cut the margin to two, 76-74, with 2:25 to go.
Thomas then came up with a big steal and Stapleton hit a fadeaway 12-footer with the shot clock winding down to tie the score at 76-76 with 1:09 left on the clock.
The Eagles defense then came up with another key play when Ed Reddick blocked Thorne's shot in the lane. Reddick also came down with the rebound to give the Eagles a chance to take the lead.
Following a timeout, Thomas probed the defense with his dribble before launching the game-winning 3-pointer from the right wing.
EMU had one final chance when Randell Smith was fouled with .6 left on the clock. After missing the first foul shot, Smith tried to intentionally missed the second, but the shot banked in off the glass. The Eagles then inbounded the ball to run the last tick off the clock for the final 79-77 victory.
"Ronnie is one of our hardest workers. He's spent countless hours in the gym, working on those kind of shots," said Burgess. "We had so many guys step up and make plays. Tavis (Stapleton) kept hitting free throws to keep us close and then he hit the big jumper to tie it late. Kenneth (Waugh) hit some big 3-pointers and Steady Eddie, Ed Reddick, was steady all night. He was in foul trouble all night but he came up with a big block and rebound to give us a chance to win it late."
The first half was a precursor of things to come as the Eagles fell behind by as many as seven points before rallying to take the lead at the half.
A layup by Aaron Adams pulled the Eagles even at 33-33 and then the score was tied at 35, 37, and 39-all before two foul shots by Waugh gave BC a 41-39 lead a the break.
The Eagles, who have battled a rash of injuries throughout the season, faced more adversity Wednesday as they were plagued with foul problems. Thomas and Adams both fouled out while Reddick was limited to 19 minutes and finished with four fouls. Romie Powell was also whistled for four fouls as the Royals made 41 trips to the charity stripe.
The Eagles held their own from the foul line, making 22-of-27 free throws for 81.5 percent. EMU connected on just 26-of-41 for 63.4 percent.
"Free throw shooting was huge," Burgess said. "Another key was limiting turnovers. We told the guys before the game that we had to take care of the basketball and limit their runs. I think we finished with 14 turnovers. Ronnie, Benaiah Wise and Matthew Hunter really gave us quality minutes at the point."
Waugh led the Eagles with 15 points while Thomas filled up the stat sheet on his way to a double-double. The BC guard finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four steals. Adams scored 13 points and Stapleton added 12. The double-digit scoring game was the fourth straight for Stapleton. Reddick also turned in a solid night with nine points and six boards.
Adam Burroughs and Longacre led the Royals with 15 points each. Thorne scored 14 and Dajon Daniel added 10. Thorne and Longacre each grabbed eight rebounds to lead EMU to a 40-31 advantage on the glass.
The Eagles are now 6-16 overall and 3-10 in the ODAC while EMU drops to 9-13, 4-9 in the conference.
Bridgewater returns to action Saturday afternoon when the Eagles host Washington and Lee.