Bellevue University rallied from a 19-point halftime deficit to overcome Midland University 101-98 in two overtimes Sunday night in the Draemel Classic.
The Warriors led 50-31 at halftime on the strength of 53 percent shooting from the field. Laurence Merritt scored 18 of his team-high 37 points in the first 20 minutes. After shooting 50 percent in the first half, the Bruins heated up to hit 17 of 26 shots from the floor in the second (65.4 percent).
Midland never led in the second overtime. Jaron Dickson’s 3-point basket put the Bruins up 90-87 with 2:53 left to play. Merritt’s trey cut the deficit to 92-91 with 1:47 remaining, but Jemeil King hit back-to-back layups to extend the advantage to 96-91 with :35 left.
The Bruins iced the win by connecting on five of six three throws down the stretch.
“There were so many times where we just had to have one guy make one more play and that would’ve been the difference,” Midland coach Oliver Drake said. “I think some of our guys just froze up in the moment a little bit, and that is just part of the growth process. Sometimes you have to go through a really tough one like this to get better, and I believe our guys will.”
Bellevue’s comeback overshadowed an outstanding individual performance by Merritt. The junior from Chicago hit 11 of 22 shots from the field, including 7 of 11 from 3-point territory. He added four assists and three steals — both team highs.
“He’s been playing really, really well and the cool thing about Laurence is that for his first two years he played primarily JV (junior varsity) ball,” Drake said. “But he stuck with it and didn’t give in. He didn’t make excuses and didn’t quit. He took the hard way and this is what happens when you get on the other end of it. We’re really proud of him and glad that he is on our team.”
Merritt sparked the Warriors to the early advantage. Midland led 35-12 with 8:00 left in the opening half. The Bruins cut it to 50-31 at the break.
Kylan Smallwood of the Warriors hit a field goal with 12:01 remaining in regulation that made it 58-45, but the Bruins went on an 11-0 run that was capped by Niamey Harris’ layup with 8:54 remaining.
Isaiah Bates’ dunk with 7:29 remaining gave the Bruins a 62-61 advantage, but the Warriors battled back. Smallwood’s two free throws put MU up 74-70 with 2:32 remaining, but the Bruins scored the final four points of regulation. Dickson’s 3 with :46 left knotted it at 74 and both teams misfired on their final possessions.
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King led the Bruins, 6-5, with 32 points and Lewis Hayes added 22.
Bowen Sandquist had 18 points, including four treys for the Warriors. Smallwood had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Jacob Lenagh had 11 points and Emanuel Bryson finished with 10.
“We’re a work in progress. We’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” Drake said. “We did some things in the second half that we would all like back, but I really like coaching this group.”
The Warriors will host second-ranked Morningside at 8 Wednesday night at the Event Center.
Jemeil King 32, Lewis Hayes 22, Niamey Harris 13, Connor Dukes 10, A. Mitchell 2, Isaiah Bates 8, Jaron Dickson 6, Jaylen Wiltz 6, Vaj Rice 2.
Laurence Merritt 37, Bowen Sandquist 18, Kylan Smallwood 13, Emanuel Bryson 10, Samuel Mailloux 5, Jacob Lenagh 11, Jake Rueschhoff 2, Hunter Mengel 2.