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Mt. Olive edges CU

MURFREESBORO – For a while Chowan’s men’s basketball team looked as if they were going to gift-wrap a win and present it under the tree to Mt. Olive.

Then it almost became, &uot;How The Grinch Stole Christmas.&uot;

 Trailing by 12 with a little more than four minutes left to play, the Hawks reeled off a dozen points in three minutes to tie the game, but a pair of free throws by Brandon Streeter with four seconds left proved to be the difference as Mt. Olive prevailed for their third straight triumph over Chowan and spoiled a nice holiday present for Hawks fans with a 79-77 win Wednesday night at the Helms Center.

Junior guard Chris Kenon led all scorers with 22 points for Chowan, including four three-pointers and five steals in a losing effort. Sophomore Jaleel Nelson tallied 17 points and had six rebounds while junior Aaron Scott added 13.  Kendrick Easley had 21 points to lead Mt. Olive while Streeter had 20.

Chowan evened their record at 4-4 while Mt. Olive – ranked 20th in the nation in the latest National Association of Basketball Coaches poll - raised their record to 5-1. Except for a 2-2 tie, the Hawks trailed the entire game until the final 56 seconds in Chowan’s first game following the school’s fall semester exam break.

&uot;We dig ourselves out of a hole,&uot; said Chowan coach Jim Tribbett after the game, &uot;by just fighting and scrapping and that’s what every coach in America wants.&uot;

Effects of the exam-break layoff were evident in the play of both teams in the first half.  The Trojans had not played since December 1, while the Hawks last saw action in their 70-65 win over St. Andrews on the road eight days ago.

Mt. Olive was up by eight, 21-13, when freshman forward Layth Mansour picked up his second foul with nine and a half minutes to play. 

Tribbett opted for a smaller lineup with the big man in foul trouble and the Trojans used the smaller, more athletic lineup to make a 7-2 run and take their biggest lead of the half, 28-15, with under eight minutes remaining. 

Chowan continued to chip away and after Kenon hit a pair of lay-ups with under four minutes to go until halftime, the Hawks had trimmed the lead down to three points at 37-34.  It was 44-37 with just five seconds left in the half when senior Montino Williams made a lay-up, was fouled, and then made the free throw to pull Chowan within four, 44-40, to make that the score at the break.    

Mt. Olive came out in the second half and took advantage of nine Chowan turnovers in the first nine minutes to build a lead of as much as twenty points, 68-48, with eleven and a half minutes remaining. 

After missing their first seven attempts beyond the arc, Kenon hit Chowan’s first three-point field goal and the Hawks started to battle back, trimming the lead to ten, 75-65, with four and a half minutes to play. An Easley jump shot pushed the Trojans back up by a dozen, but that’s when the Hawks turned up the defense and began their 12-0 run.

Kenon ignited the spurt with a three-pointer, followed by a steal and another trey to pull Chowan within six.  Then, after being outrebounded all night, the Hawks began to control the glass as Raul Tutelea grabbed several key caroms including a Streeter miss that Lando Morrison converted into a lay-up at the other end for a four-point deficit, 77-73, with under three minutes to play. 

After a Nelson steal, he was fouled and made both free throws to pull Chowan within two; and on the next play, Kenon made his fifth and final steal of the night.  He pushed the ball ahead to the frontcourt where he passed to Scott who faked a Mt. Olive defender and let fly a fourteen-foot jump shot that found nothing but net and Chowan had pulled off the improbable comeback to tie the game at 77-all.

With 33 seconds left, Mt. Olive’s Mike Holloman drove and was blocked by Nelson, Streeter somehow got his hands on the rebound and was fouled by Kenon, but the Trojans were not in the bonus. 

On the in-bounds play underneath, Streeter was fouled by Nelson and this time he sank what proved to be the game winner.  A desperation attempt by Charles Rhodes from near halfcourt was short as time expired and Mt. Olive escaped with the win.

&uot;This team showed a lot of character today,&uot; said Kenon. &uot;It shows you what we can do against these types of teams and this type of competition.  We’re going to fight until it says ‘zero’ on the clock and it almost worked out for us.&uot;

&uot;It keeps you fighting and encouraged,&uot; added Scott, &uot;and we know that next game if we get down again we’ll know it’s not over ’til it’s over.&uot; 

&uot;We’re trying to teach this young team what it takes to become one of those types of teams,&uot; said Tribbett, gesturing toward the celebrating Trojans who were gathered at midcourt. &uot;And I still say come January and February this is going to be a nice ball club.

Chowan traveled to Holy Family University in Philadelphia for a 1 p.m. tip-off today (Saturday).  After a short break for Christmas, they’ll head to Savannah, Georgia for a pair of games December 28 and 29 in the Armstrong Atlantic Classic against Georgia College and host Armstrong Atlantic before returning to open 2008 with three straight home games beginning with Catawba on January 2.