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Big South Tournament Final: UNC Asheville Bulldogs head back to NCAA Tournament with win over Winthrop

The Bulldogs are back in the dance for the first time since 2012, the second of back-to-back appearances by the Big South champions.

Lance King/Getty Images

Dwayne Sutton scored 25 points and pulled in 18 rebounds to help lead the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs past the Winthrop Eagles in the finals of the Big South Tournament. The Bulldogs punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012.

The Eagles got 31 points from Jimmy Gavin, but it wasn't enough to help them hold onto a nine-point halftime lead. The Bulldogs took advantage of the Winthrop defense in the second half, and scored 53 points to earn the 77-68 win.

Were it not for the performance of Gavin in the Big South Tournament, it is unlikely that the Eagles would have gotten this far. His fellow first-team Big South teammate Keon Johnson was missing in action for most of the week. The junior scored just 26 points in three games, and was 7-for-35 from the floor.

In the final, Johnson went 1-for-16 from the floor and missed all nine of his 3-point attempts. Without him scoring alongside Gavin, the Eagles didn't have enough firepower to overcome their defensive woes.

Asheville senior Sam Hughes added 15 points and four blocks in the win, while Kevin Vannatta (12) and Dylan Smith (11) made it four Bulldogs in double figures.

The Bulldogs seem headed for another 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite the upsets in other leagues that have occurred so far. Asheville was the 16-seed in both 2012 and 2011, winning a First Four game in 2011, to earn their way into a date with Pittsburgh.

The Big South champs have just one win over the top 100 in the RPI, a 20-point victory over East Tennessee State earlier in the year, but have zero losses against the bottom 100, a stat that could keep them out of Dayton.