#3 Winthrop Gets Past #6 Liberty, 80-72

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ROCK HILL, S.C. - Reggie Middleton scored a career-high 26 points to lead No. 3 seeded Winthrop to a 80-72 win over No. 6 Liberty in the quarterfinals of the 2010 Advance Auto Parts Big South Conference Championship played Tuesday, March 2, at the Winthrop Coliseum.  Winthrop (17-13), which has won eight of the past 11 Big South championships, advances to the Semifinals and will play No. 2 seed Radford on Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. at Kimbel Arena in Conway, SC.  The game will be broadcast live by ESPNU.

In addition to Middleton's production, senior forward Mantoris Robinson earned a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while Matt Morgan had 13 points.  Jesse Sanders led the Flames with a career-high 25 points while Kyle Ohman had 22. 

Liberty (15-16) jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead on a pair of baskets by Sanders and a 3-pointer by Ohman, but Winthrop bounced back to score 13 unanswered points to lead 13-7.  The Eagles took the lead at 8-7 on a 3-pointer by Robinson.  Morgan got the Eagles first points on a 3-point play.  Winthrop took a six-point lead at 17-11 following a jumper in the lane by Justin Burton.  Another jumper by Burton doubled the lead at 22-11 with 11:16 left in the first half.  Back-to-back 3-pointers by Middleton and another trey by Burton put the Eagles up 35-25 with 2:30 remaining in the half.  After Ohman cut the Winthrop lead to six, Charles Corbin made a put back basket that sent the Eagles to intermission leading 37-29.

Winthrop built its largest lead of the game at 12 as it led 45-33 with under 16 minutes left in the game following a bucket by Morgan and another 3-pointer from Middleton.  Liberty then went on a 21-12 run to get back to within a bucket at 56-54 with 8:35 left in the game.  Sanders converted two free throws to make the score 47-41.  The Flames still trailed by six at 55-49 after an Ohman 3-pointer  with 10:07 remaining.  On the following possession, Sanders slipped inside for a layup to make it 55-51 at the 9:16 mark.  A 3-pointer by Jeremy Anderson got the Flames to within two before a driving baseline shot by Andre Jones gave the Eagles some breathing room.

Sanders worked free again for a 3-point play in the paint to get Liberty to within a point, but Robinson answered for Winthrop with a jump hook and Middleton hit a driving layup after a steal to give the Eagles a five-point advantage at 62-57.  Following a Flame miss, Middleton drove the lane and was fouled.  He made two free throws to move the lead back to seven at 64-57 with six minutes left to play.  A three-point play Middleton put the Eagles up 69-60 with 4:54 left.  Evan Gordon got the Flames back to within six at 73-67 with a 3-pointer.  A deep 3-pointer by Ohman made it 73-70 with 1:41 left to play. 

Jones came up with a loose ball rebound off a miss by Patrick Konan and was immediately fouled with 42 seconds left.  Jones hit both free throws to push the lead back to five.  Sanders was fouled on a drive to the bucket and connected on two free throws with 37 seconds left.  Middleton was fouled on the inbounds play and hit one of two free throws for a career high 26 points that  made the score 76-72.  Liberty missed twice and Morgan was fouled on the rebound with 19 seconds on the clock.  He hit both to give Winthrop a 78-72. 

Winthrop, which came into the game shooting 38 percent from the floor, connected on 50 percent (28 of 56) thanks to the 8 of 12 performance by Middleton.  The Eagle defense limited Liberty to 39.3 percent (24 of 61). 

WINTHROP HEAD COACH RANDY PEELE

"Liberty's a very hard team to play and I had a great deal of respect for them coming into the game. As far as our team is concerned I am really proud of our ball club. At tournament time every game becomes a grind. Sometimes I think we take a little heat about our style of play, but our style of play wins championships. So, tonight's game was a grind out game."

LIBERTY HEAD COACH DALE LAYER

"I thought it was a very well played game.  I'm looking at stat sheets and (Winthrop's) not shot the ball that well against anybody but us.  You've got to give them credit.  They're a very, very good defensive team.  They've got great experience and toughness.  They took everything that we threw at them, but at the same time I'm extremely proud of our players-how they withstood a barrage of made shots, how they took punch after punch, figuratively, and battled back and we had shots down the stretch but couldn't quite pull it out.  But, you've got to give them great credit."