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Big South quarterfinal recap: Stunning upsets in afternoon, chalk in evening

Chris Clemons drops 51(!) to oust defending champion UNC Asheville

NCAA Basketball: Winthrop at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The second day of the Big South Tournament saw the action move from campus sites to Rock Hill, SC, home of Winthrop, for the quarterfinals. The day session was [insert fire emojis], with a pair of upsets that saw the 2 and 3 seeds take an early bus home. The night session wasn’t nearly as thrilling, with a pair of favorites winning in dominating fashion.

#7 Campbell 81, #2 UNC Asheville 79

7-seed Campbell and defending champion UNC Asheville kicked off what many consider to be the start of “March Madness”, which is the first afternoon conference tournament game of the holiday season, and oh mama did this game not disappoint. Things started out normal enough with UNC Asheville jumping out to a 16-9 lead, despite point guard Kevin Vannatta not starting for the Bulldogs due to the flu. Then there was the sudden realization that Campbell’s diminutive scoring machine Chris Clemons (who missed the second regular season meeting with the Bulldogs) had all 9 Camel points. “Interesting,” you thought to yourself. UNCA then scores 7 straight and the Bulldog lead ballooned to 23-9. “Everything seems to be in order here,” you mutter to your computer streaming the game. You turn to do some work at what is, ostensibly, your job.

Then the walls started to melt.

A 16-0 Campbell run is spurred entirely by Clemons, who now has 23 of his team’s 25 points. The game is also tied. The half ends with Campbell leading 36-35. You spend halftime texting friends and tweeting about Clemons and his wild half (and also generally ignoring everything and everyone around you at work). The second half starts with a 3 from UNCA star freshman MaCio Teague, who finished with 22 points. “Ah sweet order returned,” you sip from your coffee, but then Clemons cans a 30 footer.

The walls are melting again and Clemons is hitting everything in sight. Deep threes, step back jumpers, runners, drives that finish in an absurd mid air half pirouette. The game is going back and forth, Clemons can’t miss, and you’re left muttering “This is March”, like a Taoist mantra, as Campbell takes the lead 81-76 with just five seconds remaining. Raekwon Miller hits a 3 with 1.5 seconds left for UNCA, but the game is over. Clemons has finished with 51 points (a Big South Tournament record) on 18-32 from the field.

Your entire gestalt has been effectively melted by the heroics of Clemons. Your coworkers are staring at you now. Say something. “ March,” tumbles out of your mouth.

#6 Radford 56, #3 Liberty 52

The follow up act to Chris Clemons and the Camels was another barn burner, which shouldn’t have been a surprise. Liberty won both regular season meetings, but needed OT at Radford and a buzzer beater at home to sweep the Highlanders. Today, when it mattered most, Radford got their revenge and sent the third-seeded Flames home early. Liberty battled back from an excessively slow start where they hit just two of their first eighteen field goal attempts, which was in addition to leading scorer Ryan Kemrite getting in early foul trouble (he eventually fouled out with just one made field goal on the day).

Radford wasn’t exactly sharp out of the gates either, but the Flames’ slow start allowed for a 16-5 Highlander lead midway through the first half. Liberty picked things up a bit to close the first 20 minutes thanks to Myo Baxter-Bell, who was the games leading scorer with 18, but Radford took a 29-21 lead into the half.

The second half started with not as many Highlander jumpers falling over the Liberty pack line defense, while the Flames started to hit some threes themselves. Slowly but surely Liberty whittled the lead down until a John Dawson three with 1:48 left gave the Flames the lead, 49-47. From there an Ed Polite, Jr. bucket tied the game back up at 49, and was fouled in the process. Polite missed the free throw, but Radford’s Donald Hicks grabbed the offensive board and from there the Highlanders essentially iced the game at the line, with Christian Bradford going 6-6 at the stripe in the final 45 seconds.

#1 Winthrop 92, #8 Charleston Southern 78

Host school and top-seeded Winthrop took the floor to kick off the evening session in Rock Hill, and Keon Johnson wasted no time trying to match what Chris Clemons had done on his home floor earlier in the afternoon. Johnson scored Winthrop’s first 10 points against 8-seed Charleston Southern, en route to a game high 31 points. The Eagles were finding whatever they wanted from outside, hitting 9 threes to take a 44-31 lead into the half.

CSU battled back thanks to the backcourt trio of Armel Potter (21 points), Cortez Mitchell (19 points), and Christian Keeling (18 points and 11 rebounds) to cut the lead to 4 with 11:35 left. From there Winthrop regained their composure after Xavier Cooks (whose size and mobility was once again a problem for the Bucs) and Johnson took over, and eased into a 14 point victory in a game where CSU never lead. Winthrop finished the game 14-30 from 3, a Big South Tournament record for the Eagles. That’s a nice way to earn your 100th career win if you’re Pat Kelsey.

#4 Gardner-Webb 91, #5 High Point 55

The quarterfinal session in Rock Hill ended with the biggest blowout of the night, as 4 seed Gardner-Webb completely ran 5 seed High Point off the floor in the second half. The 36 point margin of victory comes as a surprise after two tooth and nail regular season games between these squads. The evening started off well enough for the Panthers, with the return of point guard Jamal Wright to the lineup, and HPU was within striking distance at the half, down 9 to the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Things quickly escalated from there.

GWU started the second half on a 19-2 run that saw them hit four straight threes. Speaking of three pointers, High Point was just 1-17 from deep while GWU went 12-23. Tyrell Nelson led a balanced attack for the four seed with 16 points, while Miles Bowman Jr hit 11 of 12 free throws to pace HPU with 21 points.

Up Next: The tournament continues in Rock Hill with 1-seed Winthrop hosting 4-seed Gardner-Webb, and 6-seed Radford vs 7-seed Campbell. No re-seeding in the Big South. Winthrop won two tight regular season games against GWU, while Campbell swept the Highlanders.