HARROGATE – Timely baskets and gritty play helped the Lincoln Memorial University men’s basketball team to its sixth-straight win Wednesday night in a defensive affair against in-state rival Carson-Newman University. The Fourth-ranked Railsplitters (13-1, 11-1 SAC) overcame poor shooting with a strong defensive performance to earn a hard-fought 70-59 victory over the visiting Eagles (5-5, 4-5 SAC) inside B. Frank “Tex” Turner Arena.
An inspired 27-point career night from redshirt sophomore guard/forward Xavier Bledson propelled LMU to its 26th consecutive home victory as the Railsplitters won their 45th game in the last 46 outings.
Outrebounding Carson-Newman 44-40 in a physical 40 minutes that saw a combined 38 free-throw attempts, LMU scored 15 points off of 15 Eagle turnovers and limited its opposition to under 40 percent shooting for the night. Limiting Carson-Newman to 39.3 percent (24-of-61) from the field and only 12.5 percent (2-of-16) from long range, the Railsplitters scored 20 points off the fastbreak and benefitted from eight steals.
Despite shooting 37.1 percent (23-of-62) for the game and going 7-for-26 (26.9 percent) from outside, LMU assisted on 16 of its 23 made field goals.
After holding a 16-point advantage at halftime, which would be the largest lead of the night, the Railsplitters were outscored 38-33 in the second half. Showing great composure, LMU withstood a late push by the Eagles and grabbed key rebounds down the stretch.
The Railsplitters were held scoreless for the first two minutes of the game before junior forward Jordan Guest knocked down a wing three pointer. A 12-2 run over six-and-a-half minutes gave LMU a 16-6 lead nine minutes in following five consecutive points from Bledson.
Carson-Newman went on to outscore the Railsplitters 11-7 over the next seven minutes of action to get within six at 23-17 but LMU took a 37-21 lead into the break following a 14-4 run over the final 4:37 of the half. A pair of buckets from Guest, four points from Bledson and a three by redshirt senior guard Devin Whitfield preluded a deep three pointer by senior guard Alex Dahling in the closing seconds of the opening half.
Holding the Eagles to just 21 points on 23.3 percent (7-of-30) shooting in the first half, the Railsplitters shot 39.4 percent (13-of-33) from the floor in the opening 20 minutes and were paced by Bledson’s 16 points.
A 14-3 Carson-Newman run got the visitors within five at 40-35 shortly after the first media timeout of the second half. A Bledson steal and a layup by junior point guard Julius Brown sparked a slow-developing 14-9 run over the ensuing eight-and-a-half minutes as back-to-back Bledson treys put LMU up by 10 at 56-46 with seven minutes to go. The stretch featured plenty of hustle plays and physicality by both teams with the Railsplitters regaining the momentum.
That momentum, however, would be short lived as the Eagles put together a 10-4 run over the next 4:12. A jumper by Carson-Newman’s EJ Bush made it a four-point game at 60-56 with 2:49 left. Moments later, a conventional three-point play by Bledson began a 10-3 LMU run to close out the game and an emphatic Whitfield dunk put the Railsplitters up 66-57 with under a minute remaining. Clutch free throws from Whitfield and Julius Brown sealed the win.
Bledson went 8-for-17 from the field and 2-for-4 from beyond the arc while going 9-for-10 at the foul line and distributing four assists. Three of LMU’s seven players who saw the court scored in double figures with Whitfield pouring in 15 on 5-for-9 shooting and grabbing seven rebounds. Guest finished with 10 points and six boards and redshirt junior guard Cameron Henry pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds. Julius Brown and Dahling each scored seven points as Brown also dished out four assists and Dahling three.
Bush, who scored the Eagles’ last five points, led Carson-Newman with 16 points and six boards. Eagle guard Tripp Davis scored 11 points, handed out a team-high four assists and claimed six rebounds, while Tyler Bowens contributed 10 points and six boards off the bench.
The Railsplitters wrap up their six-game stretch in 12 days this weekend in Wingate, North Carolina, where LMU takes on Wingate Saturday at 4:30 p.m. inside Cuddy Arena. Next Wednesday, Feb. 3, the Railsplitters begin another three-game homestand with nationally-ranked Queens.