ASHEVILLE — If wire-to-wire intensity, punching, counterpunching and big shots suit your fancy, then the quarterfinals of the Big South Tournament delivered. Right on the heels of a huge upset, Longwood, Radford, Winthrop and Gardner-Webb squared off on Thursday to set up an action-packed semifinal round.
Game one: No. 2 Radford vs. No. 10 Longwood
Longwood continued its newfound tournament defensive identity during Saturday’s contest. The more-energetic Lancers were once again active in their half-court defense by switching everything on the perimeter, and trapping on ball screens that gave Radford difficulties.
The Lancers utilized their stifling defense to jump out to an early 15-10 lead at the halfway mark of the first half. B.K. Ashe kickstarted the Lancers early on; he poured in jumper after jumper on his way to a quick 11 points, but was sidelined with two personals.
Then Ed Polite Jr. and the Radford frontcourt came alive.
With the Highlanders shooting poorly thanks to the Longwood defense, offensive rebounds would bring Radford back to life. Not only were they getting more possessions, but they also got to the foul line in order to keep pace with the hot-shooting Lancers.
As Radford coach Mike Jones called him after the game “Big Shot Don,” Donald Hicks heated up in the first half, knocking down two threes as one of the few bright spots for the Highlander offense. Hicks continued that hot shooting and finished with 16 points, including the go-ahead three with 34 seconds, right on the heels of Damarion Geter’s monster jam that tied the game at 53.
The loss brings a close to the collegiate careers of best friends Ashe and Charles Glover, but their friendship obtained more memories to share. Both carried the Lancers with not only 15 points apiece, but also defensive efforts and leadership demonstrated to Big South freshman of the year Carlik Jones.
Game two: No. 3 Winthrop vs. No. 6 Gardner-Webb
If it’s threes you like, it is threes you shall receive.
A barrage of shots from behind the arc went up in the second game of the afternoon between 3-seed Winthrop and 6-seed Gardner-Webb. Between the two teams, a total of 51 three-pointers were attempted in the 72-68 victory for the Winthrop Eagles.
The Eagles and Runnin’ Bulldogs were neck-for-neck in the first half, but both got it done in different fashions. While Winthrop was letting them fly at a 6-17 clip from three, Gardner-Webb knocked down just 4-6 and attacked the off the bounce for 14 points in the paint. The one constant was that each team was committed to executing their style of play on both ends of the floor, leading to a 32-32 tie at the break.
On an afternoon when the player of the year Xavier Cooks was slightly off his game, his Eagles teammates accepted the challenge of stepping up their production. Freshman Kyle Zunic played with marvelous poise and confidence in his first tournament game. Zunic, who shot 50 percent with 13 points, Adam Pickett, and Anders Broman made key play after key play for the Eagles.
Not to be overshadowed, David Efianayi and Liam O'Reilly were remarkable for Gardner-Webb. Whenever a spark was needed, senior O’Reilly was in the mix of things, which led to 20 crucial points. If Winthrop needed a play made for a teammate, O’Reilly was also there with six assists. Applying pressure in the Eagles’s help defense fell on Efianayi’s shoulders — thanks to his knack for finding tight gaps in the defense and providing offense.
Cooks delivered down the stretch when it mattered most. Despite his early game woes, he made two critical buckets late and forced double teams that led to kick outs to open shooters. As the Eagles advance to the semifinals, they appear to be back to playing their brand of basketball.
Radford and Winthrop play at 6 p.m. during tomorrow’s semifinal round.