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Big South Notebook

March 2, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Big South Conference Notebook

by Jeremy Dunlap

Tourney Time

The jockeying for seeds is over and on Tuesday, March 2, the Big South Conference Tournament gets underway featuring a new format and eight teams hungry for a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament. For the first time in league history, each tournament game will be played at the site of the better seeded team, concluding with the nationally televised championship game on Saturday, March 6.

Liberty had already secured the top seed coming into the week. High Point used a dramatic comeback and last-second lay-up to beat VMI this past week to clinch the second seed in the tournament. That win by the Panthers left Winthrop with the third seed. Coastal Carolina grabbed the fourth seed as they took care of business by beating Charleston Southern and got the help they needed, with Radford losing to Liberty, dropping Radford to the fifth spot. Sixth seed UNC Asheville, seventh seed VMI, and eighth seed Charleston Southern round out the bracket. Birmingham Southern, which earned the title of regular season co-champion, is ineligible for the Big South Tournament until the 2005-2006 season.

Player of the Week

Senior Day was a showcase for Winthrop senior Tyrone Walker, who led the Eagles with 27 points, 12 rebounds and three assists in Winthrop’s win over UNC Asheville last week. Walker was the key performer down the stretch, scoring 11 points and grabbing six rebounds in the last nine minutes of the game. He also made an improbable full-court shot at the end of the first half after rebounding a missed UNC Asheville free throw under the basket.

Team Reports

Liberty Flames (15-14, 12-4) Last Week: 1-1

After clinching the top seed over a week ago, the Flames have looked a bit sluggish this past week, but they were able to split a pair of games. Liberty lost on the road in a non-conference game against UNC Greensboro, 74-63, then squeaked past Radford at home, 50-49. Senior forward Gabe Martin played well in both games, getting a double-double (19 points and 11 rebounds) against UNC-G, and 14 points and nine rebounds in the win over Radford.

Liberty will start its quest for an NCAA tournament bid with a game against last-place Charleston Southern March 2. As the top seed, Liberty will host any game they play in the tournament.

Birmingham Southern Panthers (20-7, 12-4) Last Week: 2-0

The Panthers cut down the nets at Bill Battle Coliseum as they won a pair of games in the final week of the regular season to earn a share of the regular season championship with Liberty. They opened the week with an 84-71 win against Radford, with junior guard Jakob Sigurdarson dropping 31 points. BSC followed that up with a 67-55 victory over VMI in the team’s regular season finale.

Birmingham Southern will now have to wait and see if a 20-7 record and regular season co-championship will get some notice from the NIT committee. Similar teams in year’s past from the Big South have not made it, but without the ability to compete in the conference tournament, there is an outside chance that could help them get some consideration from the NIT.

High Point Panthers (17-10, 10-6) Last Week: 1-0

High Point controlled their own destiny for the second seed and almost let it slip away, before coming back to defeat VMI on the road last week, 76-75. The Panthers were down by as many as 10 points in the final three minutes but went on a furious rally capped off with a lay-up in the final seconds by freshman guard Landon Quick to win their third straight game by one point. Quick had 15 points in the contest and junior forward Danny Gathings led the way with 26 points on 13-of-18 shooting.

The Panthers will host seventh seed VMI in the first round of the Big South Tournament March 2. High Point won both meetings against the Keydets this season.

Winthrop Eagles (16-11, 10-6) Last Week: 1-0

It was far from easy, but Winthrop was able to outlast UNC Asheville in its regular season finale 75-68 behind a monster game from senior forward Tyrone Walker. Walker scored 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the way for the Eagles. Sophomore center Billy Houston also played well, adding 14 points and seven rebounds to the cause.

The Eagles will host the same UNC Asheville Bulldogs in the first round of the Big South tournament. Winthrop will be looking to avenge a tournament loss to UNC-A last season in the semifinals, when the Bulldogs’ Alex Kragel hit a shot at the buzzer in overtime to end the Eagles’ four-year championship streak.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (13-14, 8-8) Last Week: 1-0

The Chants were able to take the fourth seed last week with a convincing 69-53 victory over Charleston Southern and some help from Liberty’s win over Radford. Senior guard E.J. Gallup led the way for Coastal with 22 points in the win. Freshman forward Moses Sonko was the only other Coastal player in double figures with 12 points. The win over the Buccaneers gave the Chants the season sweep over the Bucs.

Coastal will open the Big South Tournament at home against Radford. The Chants will be trying to win their first conference tournament game since the 1992-93 season, when they went on to the NCAA tournament and faced Michigan’s Fab Five.

Radford Highlanders (12-15, 7-9) Last Week: 0-2

A win in either of its last two games would have given Radford a first-round home game, but losses at Birmingham Southern and Liberty force the Highlanders to the road to start the tourney. RU opened the week with an 81-74 loss to Birmingham Southern despite 17-point performances by sophomore guard Whit Holcomb-Faye and junior forward Brandon Jeffers. Those types of performances would have been welcome later in the week against Liberty as RU’s offense sputtered and the Highlanders lost 50-49.

Radford will be headed to Conway, S.C., to face Coastal Carolina to open the conference tournament. The Highlanders will be looking to extend a current 14-game winning streak over the Chanticleers.

UNC Asheville Bulldogs (8-19, 6-10) Last Week: 0-2

It was a rough week for the Bulldogs, as they dropped their final two regular season games after coming into the week on a three-game winning streak. UNC-A started the week at home but got trounced by Charleston Southern 67-47. Sophomore forward Oliver Holmes was the only bright spot with 21 points and 12 rebounds in the contest. The Bulldogs played much better later in the week at Winthrop but fell to the Eagles 75-68. This time around, junior forward Bryan McCullough was the playmaker, scoring a team-high 20 points.

UNC-A will head back to where their regular season finished, as they travel to Winthrop to open up the conference tourney. The sixth seeded Bulldogs are the defending conference champions, winning last year’s tournament with the fifth seed.

VMI Keydets (6-21, 4-12) Last Week: 0-2

The Keydets dropped a pair of games to close out the regular season, falling at home 76-75 to High Point, then losing at Birmingham Southern, 67-55. Senior forward Radee Skipworth led VMI in both games, scoring 20 points against High Point and 19 points against Birmingham-Southern. The other personal highlight was by senior guard Richard Little, who dished out 13 assists against High Point, the second time this season he has had 13 assists in a game.

VMI will be trying to earn its first win away from home as it opens the Big South Tournament at High Point. Only once all season have the Keydets not lost by double digits away from Cameron Hall.

Charleston Southern Buccaneers (6-21, 3-13) Last Week: 1-1

Charleston Southern opened the week with an impressive 67-47 win at UNC Asheville but could not maintain the momentum from that game, losing the last regular season game to Coastal Carolina, 69-53. The win over UNC Asheville marked the first win all season by the Bucs in a road game. Junior forward Kurtis Rice was the star of the show, scoring 23 points for CSU.

If the Bucs want to get to the NCAA tournament, they will have to win three consecutive games on the road in the tournament. Their quest begins March 2 as they travel to Liberty to face the top seeded Flames.

     

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