What a way to start the Big South tournament in Myrtle Beach. The conference officially tipped off March Madness at noon today with a match up with featuring the fourth seed from the North Division, Radford, and the South's five seed Winthrop.
The two teams are about as tight as it gets at this level. Radford beat Winthrop earlier in the year at home 58-57 and Tuesday was just as close at the HTC Center. Winthrop took a 29-23 lead into halftime, but couldn't hold off the Highlanders in the second half and the game ended regulation in a 52-52 tie.
Joab Jerome dominated the game for the Eagles and hit a game winning lay up with just under 2 seconds left to propel Winthrop to a Thursday showdown with Charleston Southern, a team they split with this year. Jerome finished the game with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Despite the overtime thriller, Winthrop wasn't the story in the first session of the Big South tournament. The second game featured two-time defending champ UNC Asheville versus the conference's worst team Longwood.
Although both teams are at polar ends of the Big South spectrum, Longwood came in as one of the conference's hottest teams winning four out of their last six games and Asheville's was one of the league's most struggling teams coming in with a 1-4 mark in their last five conference games.
Longwood played free in the fist half and without fear. The Lancers charged into halftime with a 47-35 advantage but the Lancers two front court leaders, Michael Kessens and Jeylani Dublin, both had three fouls and missed most of the first half.
Foul trouble got even worse for Longwood, as their top player Tristan Carey picked up two quick fouls in the second half and was sent to the bench.
Asheville kept charging in the second half and would cut the deficit to four, but the Bulldogs simply couldn't get over the hump. Keith Hornsby was ice cold, DJ Cunningham was banged up, and Big South first teamer Jeremy Atkinson simply wasn't getting any help.
Longwood sealed the deal down the stretch with some crafty substitutions by Mike Gillian, who was navigating through the foul mess, and a stellar performance from the free throw line. The Lancers went 25 for 26 from the charity stripe.
Longwood will now move on to play VMI, a team they lost to twice this year, at 2PM on Thursday.