BRISTOL, Tenn. – At one point down 17 points midway through the second half, the Tornado's chances at a Tournament Championship appearance looked bleak. King College created a 16-point turnaround and had a crowd of over 1,000 people making the Student Center Complex rumble with excitement as the game came down to the final minute with hopes of a tremendous comeback. King's effort fell just short as Brian Hewitt's final shot struck off the mark and Mount Olive College survived with a 78-74 victory, eliminating the Tornado from the Conference Carolinas Tournament.
King (23-7, 14-2) began chipping into the lead just under 11:00 to go when Brian Hewitt (Lexington, Ky.) hit one his four three pointers on the night to begin the turnaround. Eddie Piccinini (Orlando, Fla.) took advantage of an offensive foul that returned the rock to King when the junior hit a three ball to bring King within 11, 48-59.
Three straight free throw makes brought the Tornado within single digits before Hewitt pit pocketed Kendall Hargrove and drove all the way to the bucket with a layup off of the fast break. Now down six, 56-61, Logan Lyle (Unicoi, Tenn.) responded from a three pointer by Mount Olive's Mahamed Ibrahim with a jumper from 18 feet out. Hewitt then created a turnover with the second of his two steals before he was fouled on the play, resulting in a pair of free throw makes.
Down five points, Ibrahim again gave the Trojans space with his final of four three pointers on the night. Lyle, recently named Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, came through in the clutch once again with his fifth trey to keep within five points.
Piccinini brought King within a single point of the Trojans hitting his next four attempts from the charity stripe after Deshaune Green fouled him under the hoop fighting for a rebound and again following a steal by teammate Brandon Goss (St. Louis, Mo.).
Mount Olive scored the next four points to jump ahead by five but King continued with its relentless attack to the hoop and display their hot hand from the behind the arc. Brandon Goss was fouled on a drive to the bucket and made his next two free throw attempts and after turnovers by each side, King's Logan Lyle drained another three from the right wing to make it a one-score game, 73-71.
The Trojan's Craig Hayes drove inside and hit a close-range jumper to create a bit of space between the Tornado but Hewitt displayed his resiliency on the next possession, faking out Dory Hines on the left wing and hitting a fade-away three with 55 seconds to go, making it a 74-75 affair.
Allowing seconds tick off of the clock, Mount Olive staged their attack and made a drive to the bucket with 27 seconds left where Derek Staton missed a layup attempt. Craig Hayes was fouled as he brought down the offensive board and was sent to the line for a one-and-one opportunity. Hayes hit both shots and prompted a King timeout.
The Tornado came out of the huddle and gave the last shot to senior Brian Hewitt who found an opening on the left wing and took a three-point shot that fell just off the mark. King was forced to foul to give itself a chance to redeem, but was not meant to be after Derek Staton split his pair of free throws and finalized a 78-74 Mount Olive victory.
Hewitt finished as King's top scorer on Friday night, tallying 24 points on an 8-for-15 shooting display with four makes coming from long range. He added six rebounds, three assists, a pair of blocks, and two steals in his final game at the Student Center. Logan Lyle recorded 21 points and a pair of blocks while Eddie Piccinini (10) and Brandon Goss (11) rounded out the list of double-digit scorers for the Navy and Scarlett.
Craig Hayes led the Trojans with 29 points on 12-of-17 shooting and eight rebounds. Mount Olive (21-7, 12-4) never dropped below 50 percent shooting from the field or from behind the arc through the entire game. The visitors ended the game hitting exactly 50 percent of its three-point shots (5-of-10) in both halves and ended with a 50.8 shooting percentage from the field. The Trojans took a 13-point lead into the half behind a 55.2 field-goal shooting percentage through the opening 20 minutes.
After Logan Lyle hit his opening two three pointers less than two minutes into the game, King cooled down and shot 1-for-18 from distance for the rest of the half while hitting only 34.4 percent of their shots from the field. Hewitt and Lyle turned up the heat in the second half, combining for a 9-for-16 (.563) in the second half.
With the loss, King is eliminated from the Conference Carolinas Tournament after taking home a regular season championship in its first year as a league member and the school's first postseason victory since joining Conference Carolinas. The Tornado will learn their regional fate this Sunday evening following the conference championship game.