By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University's Xavier Alston and Avery Green had the right idea late in a close contest against Bridgewater College on Wednesday night.
On consecutive possessions with just less than two minutes to go, Alston and then Green found themselves racing toward the goal on break-aways with defenders trailing behind. Down three points at the time, the Hornets needed points and here were two great opportunities to get them. Both players elected to dunk -- a high-percentage move, normally -- and both missed them as Shenandoah came up empty on two possessions down the stretch in a 66-61 loss.
"I told the guys I appreciated their effort," Shenandoah coach Rob Pryor said. "You want to go up and dunk it and be excited, but our motto in practice is if you go up to dunk it, you've got to make it. And I just reiterated that in the locker room."
Shenandoah (10-6, 2-5 Old Dominion Athletic Conference) gave the Eagles all they could handle for much of the night. Backed by a spirited crowd at Shingleton Gymnasium, the Hornets went up 51-48 on Alston's jumper with 6:42 to play.
Bridgewater (9-6, 4-3 ODAC) answered with a pivotal 9-0 run over the next two minutes. Reserve Kyle Welty did much of the damage for the Eagles with a jumper and a 3-pointer from the top of the key during that spurt.
Eagles coach Don Burgess called Welty's 3-pointer "huge" for Bridgewater.
"I think that probably so far was the biggest 3-pointer of his career," Burgess said.
Green's traditional three-point play with 2:45 to go got SU back within three at 59-56, and the Hornets could have gotten closer had Alston's contested dunk gone down on SU's next possession. Bridgewater failed to convert on its next possession, and this time Green had received the ball downcourt on a run out. Green had an open look, but his dunk attempt hit the back iron and sailed away with 1:07 to go.
"It's a real tough loss because we've been in close games already this season," said Green, who finished with a game-high 21 points. "We should have stayed focused and kept our composure, and played better. But we made some bad decisions -- me myself, I made a bad decision. Down the stretch, I should have just finished the ball."
Bridgewater's Zach Hunter made a pair of free throws on the ensuing possession to stretch the Eagles' lead to five then later hit two more as the Eagles went ahead by eight with just 33 seconds to go.
Green drained a 3-pointer on SU's next possession, and Jared Carithers came up with a steal that turned into a Bryce Mitchell layup to slice the deficit to three at 64-61 with 10 seconds to go.
Forced to foul on the inbounds play, the Hornets sent Hunter back to the line -- he hit both free throws, effectively sealing the win for Bridgewater.
"I told my guys, 'Last year, we might not have won a tough game like this on the road,'" Burgess said. "I told my guys also [that] I don't care what level -- high school, college or professional basketball -- to go on the road and win in conference play is huge."
Junior forward Ed Reddick was a handful for the Hornets, as he led the Eagles with 19 points and 12 rebounds. Hunter added 14 points and Tavis Stapleton had 13 for Bridgewater.
Reddick said Shenandoah is a much better team this year than last, and points were hard to come by in the early going. Bridgewater held a slim 32-30 halftime lead.
"They did a good job of trying to keep us out of the paint, so that kind of neutralized our scoring for awhile," Reddick said.
Shenandoah was close to Bridgewater in most statistical categories, save one -- the Hornets hit just 11 of 25 free-throw attempts (44 percent) while the Eagles sank 16 of 23 (69.6 percent).
Kevin Lecsaint had a solid game for the Hornets with eight points and 10 rebounds, and Jimi Starks chipped in nine points and one gym-rattling block in the second half. It just wasn't quite enough to secure the win.
"Today we just didn't execute," said Pryor, whose squad has lost three straight. "Bridgewater did a good job defensively, but there were some plays there to be made and tonight we didn't make them."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>