Nov. 17—LAURINBURG — In their last two games, the St. Andrews Knights men's basketball team has lost by three points or less and shot under 70% from the free-throw line.
On Thursday night, facing the Milligan Buffaloes at Harris Court, the Knights ran into the same scenario again where they were in a close one late — but used the foul line to their advantage this time.
St. Andrews knocked down 27 of its 33 (81.8%) free-throw attempts, went 10 of 14 from the stripe with under a minute to go, and prevailed 91-86 over Milligan to snap a three-game losing streak and get its first Appalachian Athletic Conference win of the year.
"The free throws were key today," St. Andrews head coach Randy Hernandez said. "And I think we were a little better on the rebounds. And our guys came, and they did a good job. We've been struggling, losing by two and by three. And we finally had the chance to be plus one. And I kept saying that the whole time in the huddle. Plus one, plus one, plus one. And the guys listened. We executed a lot of things. The 3-2 (zone) was good. And it was a big challenge for us. I think down the stretch, the 3s just started hitting. But they came in at the right time, and I've got to give a lot of respect to my guys. They understood what I've been talking about, and they finished it. That was the most important thing."
Guard Xzavier McFadden shot 10 of 12 from the free-throw line; forward Jalen Mcafee-Marion was 7 of 8; center Allan Taylor was 5 of 6; guard Garrett McRae was 2 of 2; and forwards Caleb Montgomery and Mateu Escamilla were each 1 of 2.
"In practice, whenever we shoot those team free throws, and we do miss, if we don't go a certain percentage, we are running," Mcafee-Marion said. "And I feel like everybody that really stays after practice and comes before puts in the extra work. Everybody works out on their own, and it shows on the court. I really trust my teammates when it comes down to it. I'd have any of them at the free-throw line if it came down to it because I believe in them. They work on their game."
With 54.2 to go, St. Andrews (3-3, 1-3 AAC) led 83-75 after McRae hit two free throws. Six seconds later, Milligan guard Follie Bogan, who finished with a team-high 25 points, nine rebounds, and three steals, made a dunk to bring it to a six-point game before Montgomery went 1 of 2 at the line after being fouled. Milligan guard Luke Lentz, who had 17 points on the night, got fouled on a jumper he made and pulled it to 84-80 after the foul shot. McFadden was fouled on the following possession, going 1 of 2 at the stripe, and Bogan made a layup to make it 85-82.
The Knights went back up 88-82 with just over 20 seconds left after McFadden went 3-for-4 on two trips at the line before back-to-back layups by Bogan put the score at 88-86. Mcafee-Marion was fouled on the following possession and went 1 of 2 at the free-throw line, and Milligan (2-2, 2-2 AAC) turned the ball over with five seconds left, sending Mcafee-Marion to the stripe, where he connected on both of his tries to seal the win.
"I think they understand that we're there," Hernandez said. "And I just kept saying, 'Stay positive.' Plus one, like I said, and they wanted to win. I wanted to win. It's been hard. And I think the practice yesterday ... was a good practice. They might not think it was, but it was fun. We made it fun for them, and it was relaxed, so that could have bit me in the back. But it didn't. They did a good job."
Both teams swapped two-point layups for the first 14 points of the game to make it 8-6 in favor of St. Andrews before McFadden hit another layup to extend the Knights lead to 10-6 just over 5 1/2 minutes in. A pair of free throws from Taylor pushed St. Andrews' lead to 12-6, but the Buffaloes came to within one at 14-13 after Lentz hit a jumper. Milligan didn't take the lead then but stayed within six of St. Andrews for just over the next six minutes of play until the Buffaloes took it with two points from Bogan at 33-32. Milligan's lead was short-lived, though, as St. Andrews went back up 37-35 on a layup by forward Jeremiah Dickerson and ended the half ahead 45-40.
The Buffaloes evened the score at 45-45 to start the second half before St. Andrews built a 59-51 lead over the next seven minutes of play. After that, though, Milligan used a 13-4 spurt over the following three minutes to go ahead 64-63 after a layup by guard Jaz Johnson. St. Andrews and Milligan exchanged two lead changes until the Buffaloes used a trio of Bogan free throws to lead 69-65 with 5:15 to go.
However, Mcafee-Marion doubled up on right-corner 3s the succeeding two possessions to put St. Andrews back in front 71-69.
"I'm not going to lie, after missing a couple in the first half, just listening to my coaches in the huddle, they're telling me to keep shooting and letting it go, I'm just thinking, we need a three, we need it; I'm just letting it go," Mcafee-Marion said. "I'm not really thinking about them, just hooping. Just letting the game come to me, not trying to force nothing, follow what my coaches say."
McFadden put in two free throws, then Lentz bottomed the net with a trey before Montgomery connected on jumpers the following two possessions, putting the Knights up 77-73. The Knights scored six of the ensuing eight points to take an 83-75 lead before the Buffaloes started fouling them to get them to shoot free throws.
"It feels great to get back in the win column to see that I've got some dogs on my team with me that really want to win and that ain't going to fold when we lose," Mcafee-Marion said. "Never get cold feet. Them boys some dogs, I'll give it to them. I love them as teammates. They want to win with me."
Mcafee-Marion led all scorers with 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting and had three rebounds. McFadden had 18 points and five assists for St. Andrews; Taylor had 14 points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks; and McRae had 10 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
St. Andrews shot 31 of 59 (52.5%) from the field and 2 of 12 (16.7%) from 3. Milligan was 30-for-72 (41.7%) shooting from the floor, 4 of 24 (16.7%) on its 3-point shooting, and 22 of 30 (73.3%) from the foul stripe. The Buffaloes won on the boards 36-29 and had 14 turnovers, while St. Andrews had 15.
The win was more than just an ordinary one for Hernandez as he and Milligan head coach Bill Robinson have coached against each other for eight years. Throughout that span, St. Andrews is 4-12 against the Buffaloes after its win against them on Thursday.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Robinson," Hernandez said. "He's a phenomenal coach. He coaches his guys well. We have a good friendship. He does well. He always has a good team. It's always hard to beat him. And it's going to be a battle when we play them (in Tennessee)."
St. Andrews heads to Dayton, Tennessee, to play Bryan on Saturday.
"We've got a big challenge on the road on Saturday," Hernandez said. "Let's see what happens."