ST. MARY CITY, Md. - The 20th-ranked Bethany College men's basketball team sliced a 20-point deficit down to five late in the second half, but the comeback fell short, as St. Mary's held on for a 69-57 victory against the Bison in their NCAA Tournament first-round matchup Thursday night.
Bethany fell into a deep hole to start last season's NCAA Tournament game against Manchester and Thursday's game had a similar beginning. The Seahawks (20-7) scored the first seven points, including an alley-oop dunk to Chris Hutchinson to finish the run. The Bison finally got on the board on a jumper by junior Brady Pacific nearly 3 minutes into the game and a short time later, back-to-back baskets by senior British Alexander and junior Reece Mabery brought BC within three at 15-12 with 11:15 to go in the half.
Following a media timeout, St. Mary's put together a solid run to build a big lead. Devin Spencer canned consecutive treys to start a 10-2 spurt that took the home team's margin to 25-14 and the Seahawks limited the Bison to two points in the final 6:20 to take a 32-20 lead into halftime.
A three-point play by the Seahawks to start the second half put Bethany down even further. A few minutes later, two straight 3s by Spencer and a dunk by Christian MacAuley extended the St. Mary's spread to a game-high 20 at 45-25 with 15:31 to play. Bethany made its first big run shortly after that, using an 11-3 spurt to trim the deficit to 51-40. St. Mary's answered with six points in a row and their lead stood at 57-40 with less than 8 minutes to play.
With its season on the line, Bethany made one final push. Mabery scored seven in a row and 10 overall during a 14-2 run that was capped by an Alexander lay-in that made it 59-54 with 4:27 to play. Two St. Mary's free throws were answered by a jumper from freshman Delonte' Joyce and it was 61-56 with 3:40 on the clock. But that was as close as the rally got. St. Mary's, who went to the foul line 27 times compared to seven for Bethany, went 6-for-8 from the line in the final 3:31 and the Bison did not get another field goal after the Joyce basket, as the Seahawks advance to Saturday's second-round game at Virginia Wesleyan.
The Bison had three players reach double digits in the loss, highlighted by Mabery, who totaled 21 points, five assists and five steals. Sophomore Leslie Addy fired in 11 and Alexender's outstanding two-year run at Bethany came to an end with his ninth double-double of the season after he collected 10 points and 14 rebounds. He also blocked two shots and finished with 122 rejections to rank second all-time at Bethany.