Led by 14 points from Jerel Blocker, Lee (11-4) led at the close of a quick first half, 44-43. The Cougars (11-2) came charging back in the second half, leading by as many as 14 before closing the 10 point win.
Junior point guard Doug Wiggins led the way for Mountain State with 20 points, converting all 12 of his free throw attempts. Free throws were one of the big differences in the game, in fact, as Mountain State canned 32 of their 39 attempts. The Flames had just 24 free throw attempts, knocking down 15 of those tries.
Blocker finished with a game-high 23 points, shooting 7-of-21 from the field. Rico Cunningham turned in his usual balanced performance, contributing 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. Stephen McClellan closed out the double-digit scoring for the Flames, adding 14 points of his own.
Despite the high score, Lee head coach Tommy Brown was displeased with his team’s overall performance.
“I’m frustrated with our mental effort tonight,” said Brown. “We didn’t work together and we didn’t follow our game plan. It was as poor a mental effort as we have had. They played harder than us, beat us to the loose balls, and we didn’t utilize their weaknesses.”
One bright spot for the Flames was a solid performance from Patrick Shaughnessy. Turning in what was probably his best contribution in a Lee uniform, the sophomore from Chattanooga earned seven points and 10 rebounds.
“Pat (Shaughnessy) played great tonight,” added Brown. “I was very pleased with how hard he played and the effort he gave.”
The Flames will face Mountain State one more time this season, hosting the Cougars Feb.19. Last year’s contest in Cleveland will be remembered as one of the most thrilling Lee basketball games in recent memory, with Stephen McClellan hitting a buzzer beating three-pointer to knock off the then top-ranked Cougars.
The Southern States Athletic Conference schedule begins this weekend as the Flames and Lady Flames host Southern Wesleyan University, Saturday, starting at 2 p.m.
“The way the NAIA works, conference play is pretty much all that matters in terms of getting to the national tournament,” said Brown. “The season starts for real on Saturday and our main focus has to be getting better mentally.”