No. 1 Seed Winthrop Holds Off No. 6 VMI, 84-81, To Win 2007 Advance Auto Parts Men's Basketball Championship

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ROCK HILL, S.C. – Torrell Martin led five Winthrop Eagles in double figures with 17 points, and the No. 1 seeded Eagles defense held off the hard-charging No. 6 VMI Keydets, 84-81, to win the 2007 Advance Auto Parts Big South Men’s Basketball Championship Saturday in front of a crowd of 6,298 at the Winthrop Coliseum.  With the win, Winthrop captures its third consecutive Big South Tournament title and the Conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament – its seventh in the last nine years.

Winthrop (28-4) raced out to a 10-2 lead behind two three-pointers, a dunk and a layup in the first five minutes.  The Eagles maintained a seven-point lead (12-5) at 14:46, but VMI started to close the gap the first of several times during the afternoon.  Reggie Williams made it a three-point game at 12-9, and VMI moved into within one point at 12:27 when Travis Holmes buried the second of his game-high six three-pointers to make it 15-14.  Winthrop’s Craig Bradshaw then fueled an 8-0 run for the Eagles with six points to push the lead back to nine at 23-14 with 10:34 left.

The Eagles continued to hold off the Keydets and kept a six-point lead with 4:10 remaining in the first half.  But VMI continued to cut the deficit, and its first and only lead of the game on Travis Holmes’ three-pointer with 1:43 left in the half.  However, Martin countered with a trey and the Eagles took a 40-39 lead into halftime.

Travis Holmes led VMI (14-19) with 14 points at intermission, while Williams had five points and six rebounds.  Bradshaw and Martin had seven points each to pace the Eagles.  Winthrop started the second half with a three-pointer from Chris Gaynor, and moved out to a six-point lead at 48-42 with 17:27 to play.  But the Keydets hung close and tied the ballgame at 53-53 on another Travis Holmes three-pointer.  Bradshaw’s layup with 12:31 left capped an 8-0 run, the Keydets came right back on a jumper by Chavis Holmes and three-pointer by Williams, and Fred Robinson’s three-pointer from the corner tied the game at 61-61 with 8:48 left.

As VMI kept railing, Taj McCullough kept answering for Winthrop, hitting two crucial three-pointers late in the second-half and keeping the momentum in the Eagles’ favor.

VMI continued to stay within two points off-and-on during the next five minutes.  Winthrop moved ahead by six with 1:44 left on Michael Jenkins’ three-pointer, 84-78.  But VMI’s resiliency cut the deficit and Travis Holmes’ layup with :55 seconds remaining made the score 84-81.  It remained 84-81 when Winthrop turned the ball over on a shot clock violation with :09 seconds, but Williams three-point attempt to tie the game with :01 second fell short.

Bradshaw finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, and was named Tournament MVP.  McCullough had 14, followed by Jenkins’ 13 and Gaynor’s 11 points.  Gaynor also set a career-high with 10 assists.  Travis Holmes led VMI with 29 points and was 6-of-9 from three-point land.  Matt Murrer was second on the scoring ledger with 14 points.  Winthrop sets a school and Big South Conference record with 28 wins.

\Joining Bradshaw on the All-Tournament squad were Jenkins, Travis Holmes, Reggie Williams, UNC Asheville’s K.J. Garland and High Point’s Eugene Harris.

Winthrop Head Coach Gregg Marshall
“That was a great basketball game.  VMI gave us our toughest test in the seven championships that we have won.  They hit big shot after big shot, but it came down to us making one more basket.  In my heart I would like to see VMI go to the NCAA tournament and if we were guaranteed to get an at-large bid, I would have liked to see them win,  but my competitive juices are too high to see that happen.  Our team was as balanced as it has been all year and they came up with the big plays when it counted most.”

VMI Head Coach Duggar Baucom
“It’s a play we practice every day before the game.  We ran it to perfection, but Winthrop just did a real good job of defending it.  He (Reggie) got off a real good look, but it just came back off a little bit.

“Winthrop is really, really good.  To go through the regular season unscathed is pretty hard to do, but I do think it says something for us to make it to the championship game after being picked a resounding eighth place in the preseason.

"Overcoming adversity has been the story for us all year.  We have had to make adjustments and the guys always bought in.  They are such a resilient bunch.  I am pretty proud of this group, and I’m a lucky guy to get to coach them."