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Big South Semifinals: Winthrop survives thriller, Clemons carries Camels again

Winthrop is in the Big South title game for the fourth straight year

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

[Takes deep breath. Regains composure]

What a game in Rock Hill between top seeded Winthrop and 4-seed Gardner Webb. The second semifinal of the night was an instant classic, as the Eagles prevailed 80-77 in OT on their home court in front of an extremely raucous crowd.

Gardner-Webb got out to a fast start thanks to phenomenal point guard Laquincy Rideau, who finished with 30 points and 7 rebounds in the loss. Rideau was a surprise pregame scratch from the starting lineup after picking up a technical last night against High Point, but did Rideau ever make up for lost time when he checked in. The 6’1 point guard scored 15 of GWU’s first 17 points, and the Runnin’ Bulldogs rode that to a 29-23 halftime lead. Rideau had 17 points going into the half, while his Winthrop counterpart, the electric Keon Johnson, had just 2.

Winthrop opened the second half with a 9-0 Xavier Cooks (23 points, 15 rebounds) led run to take a 32-31 lead with just under 17 minutes, and back and forth we went from there. A Cooks bucket with a foul tied the game at 51 with 9:47 left, and more importantly gave GWU big man Tyrell Nelson his fourth. At the 4 minute mark things really heated up with Bjorn Broman, Jamaal Robateau, and Johnson trading threes, with Johnson’s three giving Winthrop a 64-63 lead at 3:19. A few lead changes later, Johnson (who finished with 31 points, 29 coming in the second half/OT) hit two free throws after a missed GWU three to give Winthrop a 68-65 lead, but Robateau came down and drained a three to tie the game at 68 with 13 seconds left. A Johnson three at the buzzer was short, sending the second semifinal of the night into OT.

With 1:05 left in OT, two Liam O’Reilly free throws put GWU up for the first time in the extra session, but a Johnson layup tied the game back up, and after a GWU miss on the other end, a bizarre foul by Robateau where he appeared to forget the game was tied led to two Cooks free throws and a 76-74 lead that Winthrop wouldn’t relinquish in the remaining 25 seconds. GWU did have their chances though, as Nelson went 1-2 at the line to tie the game with nine seconds left on the clock, and DJ Laster was short on a three at the buzzer that would have sent the game to a second OT.

The evening in Rock Hill began with 7-seed Campbell looking to continue their miracle run and knock off 6-seed Radford. So how could Chris Clemson possibly follow up his 51 point performance vs 2 seed UNC Asheville on Thursday night? How about 33 points and carrying Campbell to their first Big South title game since 1994 (Campbell was in the ASUN from 1995 to 2011). Campbell dropped Radford 66-50 in a semifinal that was rarely in doubt.

Radford used a wrap-around 10-0 run from the end of the first half to a three from Justin Cousin early in the second half to tie the game at 29, but that immediately spurred an 11-1 Campbell run. Radford would never get within five the rest of the way. The 5’9 Clemons also set a career high with nine rebounds, and became the first player in Big South Tournament history with back to back 30+ point games. Clemons has now scored an incredible 111 points in three games this tournament. The Camels played without senior guard Kyre’ Hamer, and his status for tomorrow’s final is unclear.

Up Next: The Big South championship game is Sunday at 1PM EST. This is the fourth straight year Winthrop has appeared in the title game, going 0-3 in the previous three appearances. Winthrop swept the Camels in the regular season, but who isn’t looking forward to Keon Johnson vs Chris Clemons for all the marbles?