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Big South Notebook

February 3, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Big South Conference Notebook

by Jeremy Dunlap

No Chance for the Dance

The NCAA is known for having some quirky rules that nobody seems to understand, but Birmingham-Southern must be wondering why the team will be sitting around in March while the rest of the conference will be competing for the Big South’s automatic bid to the tournament. In a rule that only applies to men’s basketball, a school that moves up to Division I has to wait two years after they reach full membership status before they are eligible for their conference’s automatic bid. In other sports, such as baseball, soccer, and even women’s basketball, there is no restriction to new teams.

This rule is not new and has affected other Division I newcomers in recent years, such as High Point, Elon, Oakland and Quinnipiac. However, in most cases, it does not seem to matter because the newer teams tend to struggle to compete, but that is not the case with Birmingham-Southern. The Panthers are 8-2 in the Big South and stand on top of the league standings.

When March rolls around, though, they will have to watch as the other eight conference schools battle it out in the league tournament, and they have to hope that they can earn an at-large bid to a postseason tournament. Their lack of a big win and a relatively poor RPI will not make them an at-large NCAA tournament team, but if they can continue playing well down the stretch, they could see their name in the NIT bracket, which would be a first for a Big South school.

Player of the Week

Liberty had a great week and much of the credit has to go to senior guard Gabe Martin. Martin led the Flames in scoring in both games and played well on defense and battled on the boards. During the two games, Martin averaged 17 points and nine rebounds along with getting four steals in the win over High Point.

Team Reports
– (Note: Teams are now listed in the order that they appear in the conference standings)

Birmingham-Southern Panthers (15-5, 8-2) Last Week: 2-0

Birmingham-Southern ended up moving to a game-and-a-half lead over the rest of the conference with another solid week that saw the Panthers dismantle High Point at home, 68-43, then survive a furious comeback at Coastal Carolina, winning in overtime 76-68. The Panthers leaned on their four best players, as senior forward Grant Davis, senior guard Derrick Williams, junior center Shema Mbyirukira and junior guard Jakob Sigurdarson all scored in double-figures in both of the games that BSC played this past week. Also, the Panthers continued to show why they are the nation’s most accurate three-point shooting team, hitting 43 percent from behind the arc against High Point and 57 percent against Coastal.

The Panthers will try to keep up their winning ways with a couple of games against teams in the lower half of the standings. BSC will finish their trip to the South Carolina coast with a game at Charleston Southern Feb. 2 before heading back home to take on UNC Asheville Feb. 8.

Liberty Flames (9-12, 6-3) Last Week: 2-0

Liberty won both of its games this past week to move into second place in the conference. The Flames opened up by easily beating Winthrop 66-50 before completing the season sweep of High Point with a 67-56 win on the road. Liberty’s defense was the star in both games, holding preseason player of the year Tyrone Walker scoreless in their win over Winthrop and forcing High Point to commit 28 turnovers. Senior guard Gabe Martin and freshman guard Larry Blair gave the Flames consistent offensive production, each scoring in double-figures in both games.

Liberty travels to UNC Asheville Feb. 4 to battle the Bulldogs, hoping to duplicate the performance they had when they beat UNC-A earlier this year. After that, the Flames start a three-game home stand Feb. 7 against Coastal Carolina.

High Point Panthers (13-7, 6-3) Last Week: 0-2

It looked like High Point was the team to beat as they entered the week in first place in the league, but the Panthers found themselves on the wrong end of the final score in losses to Birmingham-Southern and Liberty this past week. In a 68-43 loss at Birmingham-Southern Jan. 28, High Point could not find the basket, shooting 23 percent from the field and only making 3-of-25 three pointers. Later in the week, the Panthers came home and shot a little better against Liberty but ended up losing 67-56 because of 28 turnovers. Junior center Jerry Echenique led High Point in scoring in both games, scoring 10 points against Birmingham-Southern and 17 points against Liberty.

High Point will try to get back to their winning ways as Charleston Southern comes into the Millis Center Feb. 6. The Panthers will be battling the Bucs in a game that will be regionally televised in the Southeast.

Radford Highlanders (9-10, 5-4) Last Week: 1-1

The Highlanders did not play terribly well this past week, but did manage to split their two games. To open the week, freshman forward Chris Oliver rebounded a missed free throw and made a lay-up in the final seconds to give Radford a 71-70 win over last place Charleston Southern at home. That marked the second straight game that the Highlanders had to comeback in the second half and the final seconds to win a game. A few days later at UNC Asheville, Radford was unable to mount a comeback and fell to the Bulldogs 76-62. The loss spoiled a career day by guard Andre Bynum, who scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds along with getting six assists.

Radford will put their 5-0 home conference record on the line twice in the upcoming week. First, VMI comes into the Dedmon Center Feb. 4. Following that game, Winthrop will be in town Feb. 7.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (10-10, 5-4) Last Week: 1-1

Coastal Carolina continued to play well on the road, but struggle at home as they split a pair of games this past week. The Chanticleers opened the week with a dominating defensive effort, winning at VMI 49-32 to boost their road conference record to 3-1. However, home court continued to haunt the Chants, as they fell to 2-3 in home conference games, losing in overtime to Birmingham-Southern, 76-68. Coastal struggled for most of the game but came back from 20 points down in the second half to send the game to overtime. Freshman forward Moses Sonko had his best game of the season in the loss to the Panthers, scoring 18 points and snagging nine rebounds.

The Chants have a pair of tough road games next week. Coastal will start the week in Rock Hill, S.C., Feb. 4 as they look to avenge an earlier loss to Winthrop. Afterward, Coastal will head to Liberty to try to take the season sweep over the Flames Feb. 7.

Winthrop Eagles (11-10, 5-5) Last Week: 0-2

The road and the injury bug have taken their toll on the Eagles, as they dropped two games this week and dropped from the upper half of the standings. Winthrop lost at Liberty 66-50 and fell to VMI 68-61 over the course of three days. In the loss to Liberty, the Eagles only managed two points in the first 13 minutes of the game. Freshman guard Torrell Martin missed both games because of an injured knee and sophomore guard James Shuler missed the VMI game because of a sprained ankle. Senior forward Marcus Cooke was the only bright spot in an otherwise dark offensive week for Winthrop, averaging 17.5 points and six rebounds over the two games.

Winthrop will look to snap its three-game losing streak as they host Coastal Carolina Feb. 4. Three days later, the Eagles will be back on the road to face Radford in the Dedmon Center, a place where head coach Gregg Marshall has gone 0-5 in his career at Winthrop.

UNC Asheville Bulldogs (5-15, 3-6) Last Week: 1-0

UNC Asheville had its best game of the season this past week, dominating most of the way in a 76-62 home win over Radford Jan. 31. The defending Big South champions relied on a balanced and unselfish offensive attack to avenge a 15-point loss to the Highlanders that they suffered Jan. 10. Junior forward Bryan McCullough had a standout performance, scoring 14 points, grabbing eight rebounds, dishing out nine assists and picking up seven steals. Freshman guard K.J. Garland added seven assists to add to an astonishing total of 26 assists for the team.

The Bulldogs have a tough slate this week, taking on the top two teams in the Big South. First, UNC-A will host Liberty Feb. 4 before heading to Birmingham-Southern to take on the league-leading Panthers Feb. 8.

VMI Keydets (5-14, 3-6) Last Week: 2-1

VMI had the busiest and strangest week of any Big South team. The Keydets opened the week by scoring only 32 points, a school record-low, in a 49-32 home loss to Coastal Carolina. VMI remained at home and bounced back two days later with a come-from-behind, 53-50 win over Charleston Southern. Freshman guard Fred Robinson drilled a three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining and the Keydets down by two points to give the Keydets the late lead and the win. Finally, VMI used a late run to turn a nine-point second-half deficit into a 68-61 win over Winthrop. Senior forward Radee Skipworth scored from everywhere to lead the team with 26 points in the win over the Eagles.

The Keydets will attempt to get their first road win and extend their season-long two-game winning streak when they head to nearby Radford to battle the Highlanders Feb. 4.

Charleston Southern Buccaneers (3-16, 0-8) Last Week: 0-2

The Buccaneers found themselves with late second-half leads in both of their games this past week but were unable to close the door, losing at Radford, 71-70 and falling at VMI, 53-50. The two losses kept CSU winless in the conference this season and spoiled great performances by junior forward Kurtis Rice and senior guard Ed O’Neil. Rice scored a season-high 25 points against Radford and added 16 against VMI. He also averaged eight rebounds, proving himself valuable on both ends of the court. O’Neil averaged 15.5 points and six assists over the two games.

The Bucs will have to beat the best to get their first conference win this week. Birmingham-Southern comes into the CSU Fieldhouse Feb. 2, then the Bucs take to the road to face High Point Feb. 6 in a regionally telecasted game.


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