Sophomore Deion Lane led all scorers with a career-high 26 points as the Crusaders men's basketball team won its season opener for the first time in two years with a thrilling 81-77 home win over Mars Hill this evening inside the Wheeler Center.
Lane, who had 19 points at the half, narrowly missed a double double as he collected nine rebounds to go along with one assist and a steal.
The contest featured four ties and two lead changes as the Crusaders led most of the way all while holding off a late Lions charge as Lane sank a free throw with eight seconds left to seal the win.
Leading 44-41 at the half, Belmont Abbey outscored Mars Hill 37-36 in the final 20 minutes as the Crusaders weathered a strong charge from the visitors late.
Belmont Abbey led 74-63 with 3:44 to play before Mars Hill scored eight points in a span of 1:13, using a running layup from Justin Yeargin and three pointers from Michael Carson and Valentine Bauer, which closed the Abbey's lead to 76-71 with 2:17 showing.
The score remained at that point for the next minute until the Crusaders ripped off four unanswered, getting a layup from Lane and a Ray Chen free throw to move the lead back to eight at 79-71.
With less than a minute to go, Mars Hill fought back, closing the Abbey's lead down to just two as Patrick Monroe swished two long three pointers, both of which came after Crusader turnovers. His second trifecta came with 30 seconds left and it made the score 79-77, but the Lions did not score again, as they missed their final three shots.
Trailing by two, Mars Hill was forced to foul, and Kevin Haynes hacked Chen, who made one of two with 23 ticks left to stretch the lead to 80-77.
Monroe, who made the previous two three pointers, came up empty on the ensuing Lions possession and Lane grabbed the rebound and was immediately fouled with eight seconds left. Lane made the first but missed the second, which all the sealed the victory.
The Crusaders shot 42 percent as Lane's 26 led all players. Drexler Clark added 16 and Chen contributed 13.
Belmont Abbey is back in action tomorrow at 7:30 as it hosts Wingate.