No Maryville College men’s team had ever lost to Piedmont. Ever.
To make sure Maryville really felt it, the Lady Lions made it a clean sweep three weeks ago in Demorest, Ga., Piedmont taking both halves of a Great South Athletic Conference doubleheader in an unprecedented show of force.
Saturday, the Lions will attempt the once unthinkable when they visit Maryville’s Boydson Baird Gymnasium in the regular season finale for both teams.
Could Piedmont really sweep Maryville for season?
Could the Lions actually finish it off on senior day at Maryville?
“I’m really excited about that game,” said Lady Scots senior Alison Harmon, choosing her words carefully.
The women’s game tips at 2 p.m., with the men following at 4.
WBCR radio, AM 1470, will have the broadcast.
The Lions (15-8, 3-2 Great South) won for the first time in 19 tries when they rallied from seven points down with four minutes left to upend the Scots, 80-78, in overtime in front of a capacity home crowd.
It was a stinging defeat for Maryville (19-4, 4-1), the Piedmont loss coming less than a week after the Scots had stumbled in a 76-74 loss at Milligan College. It was the first time Maryville had suffered back-to-back losses in many seasons.
“We forgot how to play on the road,” Scots coach Randy Lambert said.
Five Scots had scored in double figures in the loss to the Lions, led by 19 points from senior Greg Hernandez, 15 and 14, respectively, from sophomore guards Jordan Damron and Wes Lambert and 10 each from junior All-American guard Eryk Watson and junior Brandon McGill.
The Scots hit on 46 percent of their shots on the afternoon, limiting the Lions to 36 percent. Piedmont made good on five 3-pointers, Maryville six. The rebounding totals were a push as well, the Scots collecting 42 caroms, the Lions 40.
Piedmont overcame those numbers by making good on 31 of 39 free throws attempted. Maryville, by comparison, finished 12-of-14 from the line.
The Lions were 10-of-10 from the stripe in the last two minutes of overtime.
The free throw disparity isn’t why they lost, though, Lambert said. It’s a sentiment echoed by many of the Scots.
“The biggest thing was defending,” junior Dustin Brown said. “His (Lambert’s) big thing is defending. At the first of the year, when the shots weren’t falling, we could still defend.”
It’s an approach the Scots are quickly returning to in practice, Wes Lambert said.
“My freshman year, we came to practice everyday to compete harder than everybody else,” he said.
Son or no son, to hear those words coming from one of his guards is encouraging as Maryville readies for next week’s Great South tournament in Atlanta and beyond, Randy Lambert said.
The 6-foot-6 Hernandez is delivering a senior season for the ages, averaging 19.9 points and 9.6 rebound per game entering Saturday’s showdown. Watson, 16.6 points, and Wes Lambert, 10.4, are next best, indicative of a Maryville team capable of fits of perimeter bombardment. Other than Hernandez, however, the Scots are limited around the basket.
“Our guard play has gone through a lot of ups and downs this year,” Randy Lambert said.
Bearding the weight of a preseason All-American selection hasn’t made life all that easy on Watson, either.
“Eryk was frustrated in the early part of the season,” Lambert said. “He got a lot of pressure living up to the hype, and people started orienting their defense to stop him.”
More than anything, the Scots, beginning with Saturday’s do-over with the Lions, must grasp a sense of urgency, Lambert said.
“This team’s personality dictates our persistence,” he said. “They seem to have the laid-back, it’s-going-to-happen mentality.”
While the Lady Scots (18-5, 9-2) couldn’t claim an unblemished record against the Lady Lions (11-2, 9-3), but they’d been nearly as dominant as the Maryville men since the inception of the Great South a decade ago. The Lady Scots were also a young team who’d found its legs and was coming in hot.
Piedmont prevailed, however, 72-63.
Having won its last eight, Maryville entered a remarkably balanced team, an aspect of second-year coach Todd Wright’s club that hasn’t changed. On the eve of the rematch, the Lady Scots have three players - Harmon, 13.2 points; freshman Janell Menard, 10.6; junior Paige Sevier, 10.0 - averaging double-figure scoring.
A host of others, paced by junior Alexis Rouvelas (9.3 points), senior Alicia Brown (7.3) and sophomore Tara Heyboer (7.0), are not far back.
“I really think, deep down, they don’t care who’s getting the glory,” Wright said.
Maryville is chock full of playmakers, not the least of which being crowd-pleasing freshman guard Lailah Farmer, who trails only Brown - 6.6 to 45. - for the team lead in assists per contest.
“I think they’re having fun, and they genuinely enjoy playing together,” Wright said. “We’re No. 1 in the nation in assist per game.”
Farmer, whose nifty, slight-of-hand passing appears to bend the laws of physics at times, breached the 1,000-point barrier as a playmaking guard at Clinton High School and is a dead-eye shot, a self-deprecating sense of humor to the contrary withstanding.
“I actually find my shot rather hideous,” she said. “I have a strange left thumb that gets into it. They (the Lady Scots) hold their breath sometimes when I shoot.”
“I feel like our team is very unselfish,” Brown said. “I feel like any of our starters and anyone coming off the bench can score in double figures on any given night.”
Maryville’s strength this season has been its ability to smoke up the rims from 3-point range. Rouvelas and Sevier are lights out from downtown, with Sevier blistering opposing defense at a 47 percent success rate.
Rouvelas (42 percent), Menard and senior Rachel Draper are each connecting in the high 30s or better.
“That helps open up a lot for me,” Harmon said. “If we didn’t have guards that can shoot, teams would just double and triple me.”
That perimeter attack, or lack thereof, proved Maryville’s undoing in the previous meeting with the Lady Lions, the Lady Scots finishing a cool 4-of-20 from 3-point range. Nine bombs from Piedmont on the afternoon, and Maryville’s fate was largely sealed.
The scope of the Maryville/Piedmont rivalry is not to be underestimated. The Lions packed the Cave Arena with a house full of screaming fans for their late January meeting, Brown said.
“They have big fan base down there,” she said, “and they have a huge gym.”
Brown said she’s hoping Maryville’s “Cooper Crazies” will return the favor Saturday within the comfy confines of Boydson Baird.
“That’s a big deal for us,” she said. “It’s the last time we’re going to get to play on our home floor.”
Enough to prevent a Piedmont sweep?
“I think we’ve learned from our slip-ups,” Damron said.