BRIDGEWATER — There was a time when Andrew Thorne thought he was going to James Madison to play football. On Wednesday, he showed a glimpse of why – only he was in a basketball uniform.
With the score tied late, the Eastern Mennonite University senior dove through two defenders to grab an offensive rebound, then shoveled a pass to teammate R.J. Sims, who knocked down the game-winning jumper from the foul line with 8.5 seconds left in the Royals’ 72-68 win over Bridgewater College in front of 920 people at Nininger Hall.
“I felt one [BC player] on my neck, and then the other one was just beside me,” Thorne said. “I thought [the initial shot] was going in, but I always say, you can’t give up. So I just fought for it, and it fell in the right place.”
Thorne, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound forward, said earlier this season that Madison recruited him as a wide receiver when he was an all-state player for Skyline High School in Front Royal. He fully believed he’d be playing football in college, he said.
Instead, he’s playing basketball at EMU – but the football hasn’t quite left him.
“One of the thing’s I’ve found is, if you get those kids that come from a football background, that helps you at moments like this,” EMU coach Kirby Dean said. “I think that’s why he makes that play.”
The rebound came with the score tied at 68. Out of a timeout, the Royals tried to find Thorne, their leading scorer, in the post – but Bridgewater channeled its defense toward him, and EMU settled for a corner 3 from its other big man, senior forward Owen Longacre, a shot BC was willing to allow.
But the rebound was bothersome for the Eagles (10-8, 4-5), who lost their sixth game in the last seven against EMU (11-7, 4-5).
“I’m disappointed in that we didn’t close the deal on that possession, but I’m very proud of my guys for competing,” BC coach Don Burgess said. “If I wasn’t a coach, I would have sat up in the stands, ate my popcorn, had a Coca-Cola, and sat back and enjoyed that game.”
After Sims knocked down the final jumper – it was his second cold-blooded shot of the night, after his 3 tied the game at 66 with 2:07 remaining – BC immediately in-bounded to junior guard Ronnie Thomas. He dribbled the length of the floor and shot a right-handed floater while moving to his left – one of his favorite, most-practiced shots – but it fell short with two seconds left. EMU sophomore Dajon Daniel grabbed the rebound and iced the game with free throws.
“I shoot that running floater every day,” said Thomas, who said he had trouble shooting after hurting the wrist on his shooting hand in the first half. “I’ve lived and died off that shot in the ODAC for the past two years. I’d shoot it again.”
Thorne had 18 points and five boards for the Royals, Bridgewater sophomore Ed Reddick had 20 and 12, and Thomas had 17 points and five assists in a crowd-pleasing, physical game where neither team led by more than seven.
The Royals led by that margin (58-51) with 7:20 remaining before the Eagles countered with a 15-3 run to take a 66-63 lead, matching their largest of the night with 2:18 left.
EMU had a chance to grab the lead back with less than two minutes remaining when, with the score 66-66, Thorne and Sims led a 2-on-1 fast break. But when the pair tried an alley-oop, Sims’ pass was a little high, and Thorne’s shot was a little short. Thorne admitted it was “a dumb play.”
But Thorne and Sims got another chance to connect in a different sort of way for the Royals, who snapped a three-game losing streak.
“This is a big win,” Sims said. “This might spurt to a big run.”
Longacre 4-9 1-2 4, Sims 6-10 0-0 13, Daniel 2-7 3-4 8, Burroughs 0-6 0-0 0, Thorne 7-14 3-5 18, Valentine 1-2 0-0 3, Furbush 0-0 0-0 0, Williams 2-5 0-0 6, Falk 3-7 1-5 7, Yates 3-5 0-2 7. Totals 28-65 8-18 72.
Reddick 6-18 8-12 20, McClain 0-0 1-2 1, Thomas 5-9 7-9 17, Stapleton 3-8 3-4 10, M. Hunter 1-3 1-2 3, Wise 0-1 0-0 0, Z. Hunter 3-5 0-0 6, Thompson 1-3 0-0 2, Adams 1-4 0-0 2, Waugh 2-3 0-0 5, Larson 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 23-56 20-29 68.
Halftime—EMU 38-36. 3-Point Goals—EMU 8-26 (Longacre 1-4, Sims 1-4, Daniel 1-5, Burroughs 0-2, Thorne 1-4, Valentine 1-2, Williams 2-3, Yates 1-2), BC 2-6 (Thomas 0-1, Stapleton 1-3, Waugh 1-2). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—EMU 34 (Longacre 9), BC 45 (Reddick 12). Assists—EMU 13 (Sims 3), BC 9 (Thomas 5). Total Fouls—EMU 26, BC 15. A—920.