Photo Courtesy of Gerry Wall
BANNER ELK, N.C. – The 2017-18 Lees-McRae College men's basketball season will be one that will be remembered for a long time to come in Banner Elk and the surrounding area. LMC put together its best season ever winning a program record 23 games on its way to a Conference Carolinas Tournament Championship and its first ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
After beginning the 2017-18 campaign with a 2-3 record, LMC posted a record of 21-6 the rest of the season, including a program record eight straight victories stretching from late January to late February. Riding a record of 8-1 heading into the conference tournament, the Bobcats defeated Erskine, Barton and Belmont Abbey in front of sellout crowds at Williams Gymnasium to win the first conference championship in the history of Lees-McRae men's basketball.
On top of breaking the program record for wins in a season, the Bobcats broke several other team records along the way. Lees-McRae set new program best marks in points scored (2,863), scoring average (89.5), field goals made (932), three-pointers made (342), three-point field goal percentage (.401), free throws made (657), free throws attempted (896), assists (437) and blocked shots (118).
Individually, the Bobcats had several standout performances as well in 2017-18. Lepreece Lynch (1st team), Jordan Turner (3rd team) and Jason Saintizaire (3rd team) all earned All-Conference Carolinas honors. Quay Kimble was named the Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year, and Head Coach Steve Hardin received the Conference Carolinas Coach of the Year honor. On top of those accolades, LMC had a pair of conference player of the weeks in Kamil Williams and Donte Falls, while Lynch added Conference Carolinas Tournament MVP and NABC Second Team All-District honors to his resume as well.
A major key in LMC's level of success last season was its veteran leadership from its 10 seniors. Lynch, Turner, Falls, Josh Gaither, Avery Wallis, Keegan Crabtree, Tyriq Royal, Rishad Felton, Marcus Anderson and Zach Wilmoth all had a part to play in not only this season's success but also the last handful of successful Bobcat basketball teams. These 10 student-athletes were a part of three of the most winningest seasons in program history in 2017-18 (23 wins), 2015-16 (16 wins) and 2014-15 (15 wins).
On top of their collective success, several members of last season's senior class leave Lees-McRae with their names etched firmly in the program's record book.
Lynch, who spent just three seasons as a Bobcat, graduates ranking eighth in points scored (1,153), ninth in field goals made (385), eighth in field goals attempted (880), fourth in free throws made (279) and attempted (376), third in steals (145) and eighth in blocks (43).
Joining Lynch on the all-time blocks list was Falls, who leaves LMC ranked fourth in the category with 86 to his credit. Falls also ranks within the program's top 10 list in both free throws made (6th – 235) and attempted (6th – 345).
Turner (3rd - .422), Gaither (5th - .410) and Felton (9th - .393) all finish their careers as a Bobcat ranking within the top 10 in three-point field goal percentage. Additionally, Turner became just the third Bobcat to ever connect on 200 or more three-pointers during their time with the program. Turner also graduates ranking in the program's top 10 lists in three-pointers attempted (3rd – 476) and free throw percentage (7th - .800).
With the graduations of its large senior class, LMC will have a different look next November when it begins its 2018-19 campaign. However, Saintizaire, Kimble, Williams, Malik Wright and Juwan Blanton are all scheduled to be back to help build upon the success from last season as the Bobcats will try to bring another championship home to Dunk Mountain.