Big South killers strike again; Winthrop advances

ASH-WInthFreshman guard Keon Johnson scored 16 points, including back-to-back baskets in the final two minutes that lifted Winthrop to a thrilling 80-79 win over UNC Asheville in a semifinal game of the VisitMyrtleBeach.com Big South Men’s Basketball Championship at the HTC Center.  The Eagles advance to their 12th Big South title game, extending their league record.  The victory also marks the third-straight year that a team has reached the Championship final from the first round.

Keon Moore was the Eagles’ top scorer with 20 points and Joab Jerome added 16, but Johnson’s driving buckets put the Eagles in front, 80-77, with 1:03 remaining and the Eagles survived until the end without scoring again.  Winthrop clinches its first Championship game appearance since 2010.

Winthrop, the No. 4 seed in the South Division, improved to 20-12 on the season while the Bulldogs (No. 2 South) finished the year at 17-15.  Winthrop will face the winner of the Coastal Carolina versus VMI game at 12 noon Sunday in the Championship game on ESPN2, with the NCAA Tournament berth on the line.

Asheville center D.J. Cunningham made a couple of free throws to cut the margin to 80-79, and the Bulldogs had two scoring chances in the final 10 seconds but could not convert.  First Andrew Rowsey missed a driving layup and then Jaron Lane’s follow from close range came up short.  Asheville also had possession with less than a second remaining, but failed to get off a shot.

Rowsey finished with 23 points while Lane had 21. Cunningham contributed 21 points and 11 rebounds.  It was the first time a team had three players score 20 points in a Big South Semifinal contest.

Winthrop used a 9-point run midway through the first half to pull in front, 29-22, and the two teams traded baskets until the break, where the Eagles held a 48-42 advantage.  Moore fueled the Eagles with 14 points in the period.

UNC Asheville scored six consecutive points to start the second half and the battle was on.  There were six ties in the second half and Asheville fought back from eight points behind to take a 77-75 lead before the 5-7 Johnson took control for Winthrop.

Winthrop, which has now won five consecutive games, shot 58 percent from the field (29-50).  It was also the second consecutive Big South Championship game where the Eagles won by two points or less.  Winthrop beat High Point in a first-round game, 62-60

Photo Credit: Joel Beachum – Carolina Clicks Photos

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