UNC Asheville Earns No. 1 Seed In Big South Tournament

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – UNC Asheville defeated Winthrop Saturday afternoon, 63-50, to earn the No. 1 seed in next week’s Advance Auto Parts Big South Conference Men’s Basketball Championship, it was determined this evening following the conclusion of the Conference’s regular-season schedule.  The Bulldogs and Eagles finished as co-champions of the regular-season with identical 10-4 Conference records, but Asheville swept the season series from Winthrop to earn its first No. 1 seed in the Tournament since 1997-98.  Winthrop receives the No. 2 seed.

Asheville (21-8) captures its fourth-ever regular-season title and first since 2001-02, when it also shared the crown with Winthrop.  The Eagles (19-11) have now won or shared the last four regular-season championships.  UNC Asheville will host No. 8 Charleston Southern (10-19, 4-10 Big South) Tuesday evening in the Justice Center at 7:00pm.  Winthrop will host No. 7 seed Radford (10-19, 5-9 Big South) at the Winthrop Coliseum also at 7:00pm.

High Point (16-13, 8-6 Big South) won an important road game at VMI (14-14, 6-8 Big South) Saturday afternoon to finish the year in sole possession of third-place and capture the No. 3 seed in the Tournament.  VMI tied for fifth-place in the standings with Coastal Carolina (13-14, 6-8), and receives the No. 5 seed with its season sweep of the Chanticleers.  Coastal will travel to High Point Tuesday night at 7:00pm, while VMI will visit No. 4 seed Liberty (15-15, 7-7) Tuesday night at 7:00pm in a rematch of last year’s quarterfinal game won by VMI, 79-78, in Lynchburg.

Following the four quarterfinal games on Tuesday, the 2008 Advance Auto Parts Men’s Basketball Championship will continue with the Semifinals on Thursday, March 6 at the Justice Center on the campus of UNC Asheville in Asheville, N.C.  Both games will air live on ESPNU, and the Championship game will be contested on the home site of the highest remaining seed on Saturday, March 8 live on ESPN2 at 11:30am and Sirius Satellite Radio.  The Big South’s Tournament champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  The Conference Championship schedule is as follows:

Quarterfinals - Tuesday, March 4 (at top four seeds)
Game 1:  No. 2 Winthrop hosts No. 7 Radford, 7:00pm ET (at Rock Hill, S.C.)
Game 2:  No. 3 High Point hosts No. 6 Coastal Carolina, 7:00pm ET (at High Point, N.C.)
Game 3:  No. 1 UNC Asheville hosts No. 8 Charleston Southern, 7:00pm ET (at Asheville, N.C.)
Game 4:  No. 4 Liberty hosts No. 5 VMI, 7:00pm ET (at Lynchburg, Va.)

Semifinals - Thursday, March 6 (at Justice Center, Asheville, N.C.)
Game 5:  Semifinals – No. 2/No. 7 winner vs. No. 3/No. 6 winner, 6:00pm ET; TV: ESPNU
Game 6:  Semifinals – No. 1/No. 8 winner vs. No. 4/No. 5 winner, 8:00pm ET; TV: ESPNU

Championship - Saturday, March 8 (at highest remaining seed)
Game 7:  Championship - Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner, 11:30am ET; TV: ESPN2

Recaps from today's action appear below, and a printable bracket is available at the bottom in .pdf format.

UNC ASHEVILLE 63, WINTHROP 50
UNC Asheville got 25 points from Bryan Smithson and used suffocating defense to upset Winthrop 63-50 before a sell-out crowd of 6,043 at the Winthrop Coliseum.  The victory raised Asheville’s record to 21-8 and 10-4 in the Big South. It’s the most wins for a Bulldog team since the 1983-84 team won 21 games.  Smithson scored just two points in the first half but exploded for 23 points in the second half.  He tied a school record by going a perfect 13-of-13 from the free throw line.  Asheville limited the Eagles to just 32 percent shooting from the field. Winthrop was 17-of-53 from the field.  Kenny George finished the game with a near double-double as he scored 10 points and grabbed nine rebounds.  Winthrop had Chris Gaynor with 12 points.

The Bulldogs led 24-16 at halftime as the visitors used a 10-0 run in the final five minutes to grab an eight-point lead.  Vincent James led Asheville with eight points.  Winthrop (19-11, 10-4) came out on fire to start the second half and got a three-pointer from freshman Bryan Faison to tie the game at 27-27.  Three free throws from Smithson put Asheville in front 30-27 before a trey from Michael Jenkins knotted the game at 30-30.  But the Bulldogs responded with buckets from John Williams and K.J. Garland to go back in front 34-30.  Smithson took over at that point on Asheville’s next two possessions.  He knocked two straight long 3-pointers with the shot-clock winding down to give the Bulldogs a 40-34 lead.  Sean Smith then sank another trey off a pass from Garland and suddenly the Dogs led 43-34.  Smithson hit a jumper on the next possession to push the Asheville lead to 45-34.  The Bulldogs built the lead to as many as 18 at 57-39 before settling for the 13-point win.  Smithson was 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the final two minutes of the game.

This is Asheville’s fourth Big South Conference regular-season title and third time the Bulldogs will be the number one seed in the tournament.  The victory was the Bulldogs first regular-season win at Winthrop in 10 years.  Asheville had lost nine straight during the regular season dating back to the 1997-98 season.  Asheville shot 46 percent (20-of-43) from the field but knocked down 52 percent of its field goal attempts (11-of-21) in the second.  The Bulldogs were 4-of-6 from beyond the arc in the second half.  Asheville out-rebounded Winthrop, 38-29.  John Williams had eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.

HIGH POINT 99, VMI 88
On a day when the all-time leading scorer in Big South history Reggie Williams was honored by VMI, High Point senior Arizona Reid made some history of his own in guiding the Panthers to an important 99-88 conference road victory on Saturday afternoon at Cameron Hall.  Reid finished with a career best 42 points on 17-for-27 shooting from the floor and moved into fourth place all-time in Big South scoring history. With his second free throw at the 9:17 mark in the first half, Reid also became just the fifth player in league history to reach the 2,000 point mark ending the day with 2,028 career points.  In addition, Reid also pulled down 14 rebounds for his conference leading 19th double-double of the year and moved to within seven rebounds of 1,000 for his career. With seven more boards, he would become the first player in Big South history and only the 97th player in NCAA Division I history to have at least 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds in a career.  With the victory, High Point ends the regular season at 16-13 overall and 8-6 in Big South play and finishes in sole possession of third-place in the league standings. The win also snapped a four-game road losing skid for the Panthers. VMI closes the regular season at 14-14, 6-8 and ends in a tie for fifth place with Coastal Carolina.

HPU scored the first seven points of the game and pushed their lead to 20-11 with 14:36 to play in the first period. The Keydets answered with the next seven points aided by a pair of turnovers by the Panthers to cut the lead to 20-18 less than a minute later. VMI continued to battle and earned their first tie of the game at 25-25 on a trey from Christian Hunter with 11:26 remaining.  High Point pushed their lead back to six points before a 10-0 run by VMI, including six points from Williams, gave the Keydets their first and only lead of the game at 38-33. Reid, who scored 26 points in the first half, finished with a flurry tallying 10 of HPU's final 12 points of the half including a three-pointer near the buzzer to send High Point into the half with a 53-47 advantage.  The Panthers blistered the nets in the opening half shooting 62.5 percent (20-32) from the floor including making 10 of 14 three-point tries (71.4 percent). VMI shot 46 percent in the first half, but went just 5 for 19 from long distance (26.3 percent).

Reid continued his strong play to start the second half scoring 15 of High Point's first 20 points including a stretch of nine straight points as HPU maintained its lead over VMI. A lay-up by Carl Josey with 7:38 to play pulled the Keydets to within two points, 73-71, but they would get no closer than that as High Point turned up the defense and handled the VMI pressure the rest of the way.  With VMI's focus on controlling Reid, the rest of the Panther lineup stepped thing up as HPU pushed a two-point lead to 15 (89-74) with 1:51 left on the clock. Mike Jefferson scored seven points in sparking a 16-6 run by HPU with Dave Campbell, Eugene Harris and Melvin Crowder all chipping in baskets.  The Keydets attempted a final charge, but Harris made 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute to thwart any VMI comeback attempt.

In addition to Reid's record-setting performance, Jefferson finished with 23 points and Harris added 20 giving the Panthers a trio of 20-point scorers for the first time since their last visit to Cameron Hall on Jan. 10, 2007. Campbell also tossed in 10 points for HPU.  Jefferson handed out eight assists and became just the fifth player in Big South history with 200 or more assists in a season while Cruz Daniels swatted a pair of shots to set a new HPU single season blocked shot record with 71 this year.  Williams finished with 31 points to lead VMI followed by 27 from Chavis Holmes and 10 by Travis Holmes. Chavis and Williams shared the team rebounding honors with seven each. 

LIBERTY 78, RADFORD 71
On Senior night inside the Vines Center, it wasn’t Liberty’s elder statesmen who shined in the Flames 78-71 victory over the Radford Highlanders on Saturday night, but a sophomore and a junior.  The Liberty duo of junior Anthony Smith and sophomore B.J. Jenkins paced the Flames combining to score 47 points, pull down 11 rebounds, dish out five assists and make six steals, while connecting on 17-of-29 shot attempts from the floor in the victory.  The win pushes Liberty’s record back to .500, 15-15 overall and 7-7 in league play. The 15 wins marks only the second time since 1997 the Flames have won 15 contests. The only other Liberty team to win 15 games in the last 11 seasons was the 2004 squad (18) who claimed the Big South Championship.

Radford jumped out to the quick 9-0 lead to begin the contest. Amir Johnson capped the spurt, hitting a trey from the wing at 17:20.  B.J. Jenkins ended the run when he responded with a three-point bucket of his own on Liberty’s next offensive possession to get the Flames on the score board with 17:56 remaining in the first half.  Liberty managed to cut its deficit down to two points, 14-12, on an Anthony Smith bucket in the paint at the 12:51 mark. The Flames then took their first lead of the game when Jeremy Anderson hit his first trey of the evening from the wing at 9:03, giving Liberty a 15-14 advantage.  The Highlanders quickly countered by taking a 22-17 lead, as Cole Wilder hit a three-point bucket with 5:55 remaining. However, back-to-back three-point buckets by Smith helped Liberty retake the lead, 23-22, at 5:02.  On Radford’s next possession, off-setting technical fouls were called on Jenkins and the Highlander’s Martell McDuffy. The double-technical at 4:47 seemed to energize the Flames, as host Liberty finished the half on a 10-5 burst. The Flames took a five point lead, 33-28, into the intermission. A Jenkins’ layup with 58 seconds left capped the surge.

Liberty finished the first half by connecting on 40 percent (12-of-30) of its attempts from the floor, including 33.3 percent (6-of-18) from three-point range. Radford hit 45.8 percent (11-of-24) of its first half shots, including 37.5 percent (3-of-8) from beyond the arc.  A Jenkins layup 51 seconds into the second period extended the Flames advantage to nine points, 37-28, as Liberty scored the first four points of the half. Liberty then moved its lead into double figures for the first time in the contest, 46-35, when Jenkins penetrated the lane again for two points at the 16:09 mark, capping an 11-6 spurt.  A foul by Highlander Joey Lynch-Flohr at 13:49 was followed by a technical foul on teammate Phillip Martin, sending Liberty’s Kyle Ohman to the charity stripe for four attempts. Ohman made all four attempts, to up Liberty’s lead to a game-high 12 points, 52-40.  Radford quickly responded with a 10-4 run, capped by an Eric Hall dunk at 10:48. Hall’s bucket cut the Liberty lead to six points, 56-50. A Lynch-Flohr bucket at 8:28 sliced Liberty’s advantage to five at 59-54, but it was as close as Radford would get the rest of the night.  Back-to-back three-point buckets by TeeJay Bannister and Smith pushed the Liberty advantage back to 11 points, 65-54, with 7:14 remaining.

Liberty continued to maintain a double-digit lead until the Highlanders' Johnson scored five-straight points to trim the Flames lead to six points, 73-67, with 53 seconds left.  Liberty closed out the game, hitting 5-of-6 at the free throw line in the final 53 seconds, to seal the victory and home court advantage in Tuesday’s Big South Championship Quarterfinals.  The Flames finished the game hitting 43.3 percent (26-of-60) from the field and 35.5 percent (11-of-31) from beyond the three-point arc. Radford finished the contest by hitting 51.0 percent (26-of-51) from the floor, including 33.3 percent (5-of-15) from three-point land. For the first time this season, Liberty defeated a team which hit over 50 percent of shot attempts. Coming into the contest, the Flames were 0-6 when their opponents shot over 50 percent.  Smith led all scorers with his career-high 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Smith also collected six rebounds. Jenkins added 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with five rebounds, five steals and four assists. Ohman chipped in 13 points in the win.  Five Highlanders reached double figures in scoring, led by Lynch-Flohr’s 19 points and six rebounds. Johnson added 15 points before fouling out, while Hall chipped in 14 points and grabbed five caroms.

CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 65, COASTAL CAROLINA 64
Charleston Southern seniors Chris Moore and Terrance Grier brought their CSU Field House careers to a close on a winning note, as the Bucs defeated the rival Coastal Carolina Chanticleers by the slimmest of margins, 65-64, in a tightly contested game Saturday night.  Moore ripped the nets to the tune of a 7 for 11 performance from the field and a five for eight performance from beyond the arc.  The final three of Moore’s 19 points came on a crucial three-pointer with 3:23 left that gave CSU a 62-57 lead.  The bucket was CSU’s only field goal for nearly six minutes, however, as the Chanticleers utilized a 14-3 run to erase a Buc lead that had grown as large as 11.  Steven Sexton would officially put an end to CSU’s advantage with his fifth three of the night, a new career high for the junior guard, with 2:03 left that evened matters at 62 a piece.

In need of a bucket to re-claim the lead on the next possesion, CSU's Omar Carter delivered again on the possession, as he skied for a rebound of an initial missed shot, collected himself, went back up, scored and drew a foul from Coastal’s Anthony Breeze.  Carter’s make of the subsequent free throw gave CSU a 65-62 edge with 1:34 left.  The sequence that followed was wild and nerve-racking for both teams, as both CSU and Coastal would miss shots thanks to strong interior defense on both ends.  Then, following two Logan Johnson free throws that made the score 65-64 and a subsequent CSU turnover, Coastal would have no less than three attempts to win the game.  However, Jack Leasure would miss a three-pointer, Mario Sissini would be blocked by Shawn Outen and a desperation heave from Sexton at the buzzer would fall short to put a wrap on the Bucs fourth conference win on the season.

Carter’s key bucket was part of an extraordinary second half from the performance by the freshman on senior night.  The Charlotte native posted a double-double in just the last 20 minutes, in fact, as Carter scored 13 points and collected 10 rebounds in the final period.  The duo of Carter and Moore would prove to be huge throughout the second half as the two combined to score 23 of CSU’s 30 points in the half.  On the night, Carter would finish with 19 points and 11 rebounds Saturday, giving him his sixth double double of his freshman campaign.  Leasure’s late miss was also part of a rough evening for Coastal’s leading scorer who, like Moore, will long be remembered in Big South lore for his shooting ability.  After making nine threes in his last game at UNC Asheville, Leasure found it difficult to produce a similar evening against the CSU defense, which held the senior to 10 points on four of 18 shooting, including two of 13 shooting from beyond the arc, on Saturday.  A particular key in limiting Leasure’s open looks was the defensive play of freshman guard Tovi Bailey, who harassed his much elder counterpart on almost every possession.

On the night, CSU outshot Coastal 44.6% to 38.3% from the field, connected on 45.8% of their three pointers to Coastal’s 29% and out-rebounded the Chanticleers 38 to 36.  Joining Moore and Carter in double figures for CSU was freshman Austin Johnson, who scored 10 points Saturday, while Sexton (17 points), Anthony Breeze (13 points), Sissini and Leasure (10 points a piece) all scored in double figures for the Chants.  Breeze also joined Carter in posting a double-double, as the freshman forward pulled down 12 rebounds on the night.  Breeze also posted three blocks on the night, while Outen posted four for CSU, including the critical block on Sissini in the game’s dying moments.  Both teams also took extraordinary care of the basketball Saturday, as Coastal recorded only three turnovers while CSU recorded just eight.  In terms of assists, Johnson lead the way for CCU with six, while Carter and guard Lorenza Knight shared the CSU lead with four a piece.