GAME NOTES: A couple of teams with identical overall records are taking it down to the wire this afternoon, as the Winthrop Eagles battle the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina in the title game of the 29th annual Big South Conference Tournament.
A fourth seed from the South Division, the Eagles made it to the championship game yet again by first defeating Liberty in the first round of the event on Wednesday by a score of 77-65, and then taking out High Point by a mere two points two days later, 62-60. On Saturday afternoon, in the semifinals, Winthrop slipped by UNC Asheville by an 80-79 final. Having a record of 39-18 in this event over the years and having won the title 10 times goes a long way in preparing a program for close calls in clutch situations.
As for the Chanticleers, the top seed from the South Division, they earned a bye through to the quarterfinals two days ago where they needed a pair of overtime sessions to climb out with a 73-68 win against Charleston Southern. Yesterday it was VMI that gave Coastal a tough time before the hosts claimed a 66-62 victory.
Unlike Winthrop which has dominated the league for so many years and last won the title in 2010, Coastal Carolina has gone without the crown since 1993, although it did play in the championship in both 2010 and 2011, losing to Winthrop by a score of 64-53 in the former.
The Eagles won both meetings during the regular season, including a narrow 73-72 overtime outcome at this same facility back on Jan. 18. Despite being swept, the Chants still cling to a narrow 39-38 edge in the all-time series.
The Eagles had four starters score in double figures on Saturday afternoon versus UNC Asheville, led by Keon Moore with his 20 points as he converted 4- of-5 shots behind the 3-point line. Joab Jerome and Keon Johnson contributed another 16 points apiece and Larry Brown converted all four of his field goal chances as he finished with 10 points and eight rebounds for a squad that shot 58.0 percent from the field and 6-of-11 behind the 3-point line, but just 16- of-25 at the charity stripe.
Against one of the most aggressive offensive teams in the country, one that was scoring more than 87 ppg, the Chanticleers clamped down defensively against VMI and limited the visitors to just 17 total field goals and 8-of-31 shooting behind the 3-point line. The Keydets managed to produce a mere 62 points and still had a shot at the victory. However, the Chants put four starters in double figures as Josh Cameron tallied 17 points, followed by Warren Gillis with 12. Elijah Wilson and Badou Diagne both dropped in 11 points, the latter also clearing a team-best 11 rebounds in an effort to make up for the lackluster performance of El Hadji Ndiequene who scored just six points and pulled down six rebounds, but also turned the ball over six times before fouling out.
Winners of four straight, the Chanticleers are coming up big at just the right time and given how hard Winthrop has had to fight through the competition, this could be the year that Coastal gets over the hump and to the NCAA Tournament.
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