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Big South Tournament Final preview: Longwood looks to clinch first-ever NCAA Tournament bid

While Longwood looks to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, Winthrop looks for its third consecutive bid to the Big Dance

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 05 Big South Tournament - Longwood v USC Upstate
Will the Longwood faithful celebrate a conference championship Sunday?
Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

How to Watch

Location: Bojangles Coliseum, Charlotte, North Carolina

Tip Time: Noon EST

Television/Streaming: ESPN2, ESPN APP, WatchESPN.com

DraftKings Betting Line: Winthrop -2, O/U 145.5

Overview

This Big South Tournament will go down as one of the most competitive conference tournaments in quite some time.

On Wednesday, the tournament opened up with three overtime games. The other game was a 12-5 upset that finished on a buzzer-beater.

Two days later, NC A&T and Campbell nearly completed impressive comebacks as the lower seeds but the top four advanced to the semifinals for the first time since 2010.

On Saturday, the top two seeds advanced to the title game for the first time since 2009. Longwood is searching for its first NCAA Tournament bid ever as Winthrop is looking for its third straight.

Winthrop

Winthrop will be looking to clinch its third straight NCAA Tournament bid on Sunday while also trying to avenge a loss to Longwood earlier this season.

The Eagles opened up tournament play with a dominant victory over High Point 68-51. They led from start to finish as Cory Hightower led the way with 21 points.

High Point could not get anything going from the field, especially in the first half. Trailing at halftime by a score of 32-17, HPU shot 6-for-33 from the field. It finished the game 19-for-60 as Co-Freshman of the Year, Zach Austin, was held to no points on ten attempts.

“They have very very potent offensive players,” Winthrop coach Mark Prosser said. “I thought our defensive effort was consistent throughout. It’s gotten to be our identity more as the season has went on.”

The semifinal wasn’t as much of a breeze as every time the Eagles took a significant lead, Gardner-Webb responded. In the end, it resulted in Winthrop’s tenth win in a row 76-67.

Once again, the defense was strong as GWU shot only 40% from the field. Earlier this season in Winthrop’s matchup against Longwood, the defense wasn’t there, allowing 92 points from a 49% field goal clip. Now, that was just over a month ago, so it’s been a while.

Longwood

Griff Aldrich has built Longwood into a basketball school. This season, the Lancers not only reached new heights with the most wins in the program’s Division I history, but it also clinched their first non-pay-to-play tournament bid.

They would need overtime in the quarterfinals to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, ultimately beating North Carolina A&T by a score of 79-65.

Resilience is a key factor with this team and they showed it as every time the Aggies cut into the lead, Longwood would punch back and make it larger or just as large.

“I thought they really had a lot of fight, and so I was extremely proud of our guys,” said Aldrich postgame.

In the semifinal, that resilience showed again. USC Upstate took a 16-point lead early and the Lancers were starting eye-to-eye with a trip to the NIT. Justin Hill and DeShaun Wade answered the comeback call though, each scoring 18 points en route to its 79-70 win over the Spartans.

“They didn’t panic, and they just kept on playing one possession at a time,” Aldrich said. “Over the course of 40 minutes, we were able to come out the victor. Just really proud of the guys. It takes toughness, not just physically but mentally, to stay locked in,”

Longwood has won seven straight. In that victory over Winthrop earlier this season, they drained 14 3-pointers as Justin Hill led the way with 29 points.

Prediction

I think that the game will go at the pace that Winthrop wants it, but Longwood will come out with their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid, 70-67. The Lancers have been able to shut down big men all weekend, giving up only six points to their star starting forwards of Josh Aldrich and Justin Whatley. In the matchup against Winthrop earlier this season, DJ Burns only scored 10 points. He takes the 3rd highest percentage of his team’s shots in the country at 38.4%. Longwood’s leader is at just under 26% as five players shoot in the low 20%’s of shots. They’re versatile and have that grit that helps you win big games in March.