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Colonels win with stunning second half rally

Greg Mason has been the men’s basketball head coach at Centre since 1999, so when he’s struggling to remember the last time he’s seen something happen on a basketball court, you know it’s rare.

But the Colonels coach was stumped by what happened Monday night in his squad’s home opener at Alumni Gymnasium. After falling behind by as many as 15 points in the first half against Transylvania, the Colonels awoke from their slumber to set the nets afire after halftime in a 79-71 over the Pioneers.

“I’m trying to think of any game I’ve even watched that happen,” Mason said. “The first half, we were as miserable as could be, then the second half we score 60 points and we’re running an offense we haven’t put in.

“I told the guys before the game, I stole a line from Dabo Swinney, the Clemson football coach, this is just a BYOG game right here — bring you’re own guts. You’ve got to figure out a way.”

McKinney reaches double figures

Danville graduate and Transylvania freshman Spencer McKinney scored 18 points and grabbed six rebounds in the Pioneers 79-71 loss at Centre on Monday. McKinney hit a pair of 3-pointers.

The win was the fifth straight for Centre over its interstate rival, with the last Transy win dating back nearly five years. Mason said he was happy for his seniors to get another win over the Pioneers.

He also admitted this season could be a roller coaster with a roster that relies heavily upon its talented freshman class. In Monday’s win, five of the nine players who played at least 10 minutes were freshmen, and two others were sophomores.

In the season opening loss at Maryville, Tenn., five freshmen scored 49 points. They had 25 in the win over Transy, led by Perry Ayers’ 13 points and six rebounds.

Sophomore Tucker Sine scored 22 of his game-high 26 points after halftime, going 3-for-4 from 3-point distance and 9-of-10 from the free throw line. On the whole, the Colonels (1-1) hit 9-of-12 3-pointers and 13-of-14 free throws after a disastrous first half.

“We ran very little offense in the second half,” Mason said of Monday’s game. “We had one look that is very basic and ran it over and over and over, and went 9-for-12 from 3-point. … Some of the shots were not great shots. Tucker hit one or two with a hand in his face. Jarod hit a couple that were just unfair.

“I told them after the game, we had amazing energy when we were hitting those shots, but when you’re not hitting those shots is when you really have to dig down. In the first half, we weren’t doing that, so this is something to learn from.”

Jarod Griffin, another sophomore, added 21 points while hitting a game-high four 3-pointers, and senior Matt Gump had five points and nine rebounds.

“I got into them a little bit at halftime,” Mason said. “I appealed to their pride, appealed to their passion for the game, and we came out and played as well as we’re going to play this year quite possibly.”

Ayers led the Colonels with seven points in the first half, but they were down 34-19 at the break after shooting 24.1 percent from the floor without a made 3-pointer.

Meanwhile, the Pioneers held their halftime lead thanks to twice as many field goal makes as the Colonels, including a pair of 3-pointers from Danville graduate Spencer McKinney, who had 11 points and five boards at halftime.

The Pioneers (1-1) didn’t shoot or play much worse in the second half, it was a matter of Centre playing better. Senior Alex Jones had 19 points to lead Transy while McKinney finished with 18. Fellow freshman Gabe Schmitt had 16, and sophomore Cooper Theobald had 12.

“I kid you not, we’re inventing stuff on the fly. This is totally insane,” Mason said. “Both of our teams are so unsettled right now. You saw it in the game, you saw (Transy) go up and down, you saw our team go up and down. … Both teams have so much growing to get done.”

The Colonels will play four of their next six games at home, beginning with Wednesday’s non-league matchup with Spalding. They’ll head to Cleveland, Ohio, for the Case Western Holiday Tournament at the end of December before striking out into Southern Athletic Association play.

Centre will play four straight home games from the end of January through the beginning of February before closing out the regular season with three road games in eight days. Mason can hope the roller coaster has leveled off by then.

Follow Jeremy Schneider on Twitter @jschneideramn