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Big South Quarterfinals

March 7, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big South Quarterfinals Recap

by Michael Protos

Well, the Big South wasted no time indulging in March Madness. Four games filled the tournament slate last night. Three of the games were decided by three points or less. Two games went to overtime. Two games ended in upsets. And in the aftermath, the favored team appears poised to control the automatic bid again.

Only top-seeded Winthrop dispatched its opponent, 8th-seeded High Point, with any semblance of ease. Meanwhile, 2nd-seeded Liberty was the only team hosting a quarterfinal to win, and the Flames needed extra time to finish off 7th-seeded Coastal Carolina. 5th-seeded UNC-Asheville and 6th-seeded Radford busted the idea that giving the top four teams in the standings home games will provide an advantage in the conference tournament. The Bulldogs upset 4th-seeded Elon while Radford brought down 3rd-seeded Charleston Southern.

The next round moves to Liberty’s Vines Center this Friday. Winthrop meets UNC-Asheville at 6 p.m. while Liberty plays Radford after the first game, approximately at 8 p.m. The championship game will be Saturday at the Vines Center. Winthrop has owned the Big South conference tournament in recent years. But if there is a lesson to be learned from last night’s action, it’s that March Madness is not predictable; anything can happen.

No. 1 Winthrop vs. No. 8 High Point
1st-seeded Winthrop passed its first test in defense of the Big South title by defeating 8th-seeded High Point 80-64. Senior guard Pierre Wooten led Winthrop’s offensive charge with 22 points. The teams played a statistically even game with nearly equal totals for rebounding and turnovers. But the Eagles methodically pushed High Point out of Rock Hill, S.C., by a consistent game and containing the Panthers’ potent scorers. Winthrop allowed sophomore scoring sensation Danny Gathings to amass 21 points, but allowed only two other players to reach double figures and squashed the supporting cast’s attempt to contribute. Senior forward Dustin Van Weerdhuizen, High Point’s third leading scorer, did not play because of a suspension for violating the school’s rules. Winthrop earned a date with UNC-Asheville in the semifinals Friday.

No. 2 Liberty vs. No. 7 Coastal Carolina
Senior forward Vince Okotie rescued the 2nd-seeded Liberty Flames with his season’s best performance. Okotie scored 25 points and grabbed five rebounds in the overtime thriller against 7th-seeded Coastal Carolina. Coastal Carolina led by as much as thirteen in the first half and led by eight with just under four minutes remaining in the second half. But junior guard Gabe Martin refused to let the Flames fall at home in the first round. He drilled a three-pointer with under a minute to go to tie the score at 54. Martin contributed in all aspects of the game with twelve points, six rebounds and five steals. Liberty will face 6th-seeded Radford in the semifinals Friday at Liberty’s own Vines Center.

No. 3 Charleston Southern vs. No. 6 Radford
6th-seeded Radford became the lowest seed to advance in the Big South conference tournament by beating 3rd-seeded Charleston Southern 65-62. Freshman guard Whit Holcomb-Foye proved wiser beyond his years by leading Radford to victory behind 22 points. Radford won despite committing more turnovers and losing the rebounding battle. But the Highlanders’ defensive performance to start the second half made the difference. Radford held host Charleston Southern to one point in eight minutes. Radford nursed a ten-point lead to victory and a date Friday to continue the run against 2nd-seeded Liberty on its own home court.

No. 4 Elon vs. No. 5 UNC-Asheville
5th-seeded UNC-Asheville’s senior guard Andre Smith shot an ugly 24 percent from the field, but he made the big shot when it counted. Down by one with under ten seconds remaining in overtime at 4th-seeded Elon, Smith pulled up for three and drained it. Victory for the Bulldogs, 68-66. Elon’s freshman guard Scottie Rice offered a glimpse of future success by leading all scores with 26 points, but he was one of only two Elon players to reach double figures. UNC-Asheville played horribly on the road all season, but its tough early season schedule (at Minnesota, at Michigan State, at Kansas, at Oklahoma, at Connecticut) clearly prepared the Bulldogs for the big games in the post-season. Next, UNC-Asheville faces top-seeded Winthrop Friday.


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