Bryan Completes Sweep Of St. Andrews Behind Bush’s Fourth Double-Double
LAURINBURG, N.C. – EJ Bush, the dynamic freshman guard for the Bryan College men’s basketball team hailing from Oak Ridge, Tenn., is continually building a case for Appalachian Athletic Conference freshman of the year status as he completed a team-best fourth double-double of the season on Saturday in the Lion’s 70-62 victory over St. Andrews University, marking the second time the Lions have topped the Knights this season. Bush, who went 6-of-12 in the game and 6-of-7 at the foul line, collected a team-high 18 points and secured 11 rebounds. In addition to his scoring ability where he is averaging 13.3 points per game, he’s also leading Bryan in rebounds with an average of seven per game and owns the top shot-blocker role with 27 rejections so far this year. Nationally, Bush ranks No. 27 in field goal percentage (56.7), No. 32 in total blocks, No. 35 in blocks per game (1.28), and No. 40 in offensive rebounds per game (2.66).
Behind Bush was a complete team effort as all but one player who saw action ended up scoring. Isaiah McClain brings explosive play to the Lions, and he seemed unstoppable against the Knights as he broke free for 12 points, four rebounds, and a trio of assists. The only other Lion to tally double-figures in scoring was Clay Hertel who registered 10 points and seven rebounds. Big man Brice Cusick flirted with a double-double performance with eight points and team-high 13 rebounds, which is the most boards grabbed in a single game by Cusick in his career. The duo of Luke Janney and Reagan Johnson each recorded six points and three rebounds, respectively. Tyler Yoder and Justin Warner dropped in four points apiece, while Terrance Scales chipped in a lone two-pointer.
As a team, Bryan shot 38.2 percent which outshined St. Andrews’ 35.1 percent. Where the Lions gained an advantage was on the boards as the Lions outrebounded the Knights 48-37. Bryan also had a slight benefit with forcing St. Andrews into two more turnovers, 14-12.
Three ties and nine lead changes made up the tug of war battle between Bryan and St. Andrews in the opening half. The largest difference of the first period would be five points by the Lions on the last bucket before the break. The only other time that the two teams were a two-possession separation from each other in frame number one was when the Knights charged ahead for the first two baskets following the tipoff, as they gained a 4-0 lead. Janney and Hertel had the only two makes for Bryan through nearly five minutes as St. Andrews was out in front 7-4. The Lions were able to turn the corner and get their first look at an advantage at the 11-minute mark as Johnson pulled up behind the arc and sank a three-pointer to go ahead 11-9. At 8:19, the Knights capitalized underneath the goal to regain the lead 14-13, but once again Johnson came through with a trey to give an edge back to the Lions. Bryan and St. Andrews exchanged leads another six times over the span of five and a half minutes until McClain started a run that would carry on for the last two minutes of the first half. Bush found McClain who scored the mid-range jumper, Bush took his turn with a strong layup inside, and Hertel fed Cusick who knocked down the shot from the elbow to complete a 6-0 run that put Bryan on top 28-23 at halftime.
St. Andrews began the second half with a three-pointer in hopes to piece together a swing in their direction, but Hertel and Cusick prevented that from happening as they added another six points combined for Bryan to make the score 34-26. The Knights managed an additional three-pointer that slimmed the gap to five points, but a 9-0 run by the Lions gave Bryan a double-digit edge at 43-29 with 13:42 on the clock. Besides three brief instances, the Lions clawed their way to a comfortable lead and kept the double-digit difference until just over five minutes were left. St. Andrews slowly chipped away at the deficit and got it to five points, 62-57, at 2:36. Cusick came back for Bryan and made two free throws, but the Knights took their next shot at the foul line with two makes. McClain was fouled and handled the pressure with a pair of made foul shots, putting the Lions up 66-59. On St. Andrews next possession, they got some life back with a quick three-pointer. With 22 seconds left in the game, Cusick shot a three-pointer and followed his shot for a key offensive rebound. Hertel ended up getting the ball as the Knights were forced to foul, sending Hertel to the foul line where he made both free throws. In a last-second effort, St. Andrews threw up a long three-pointer but couldn’t connect. Bush snagged the miss, was fouled, and then sealed the game with two more foul shots for a 70-62 final.
Bryan improved their overall record to 13-9 and conference record to 7-6, while St. Andrews fell to 3-13 overall and 3-11 in AAC play.
Up next for the Lions, they will host conference foe Point University (Ga.) on Tuesday, January 30 at 7:30pm. Bryan outlasted the Skyhawks in their first meeting of the year at their place 70-56.