LMU men advance to SAC semifinals with 71-56 win over Brevard

HARROGATE, Tenn. – In a near replica of the last meeting between the two teams, the No. 3 nationally ranked and top-seeded Railsplitters (28-1) outscored the eight-seeded Brevard Tornados (12-17) by 13 points in the second half to fuel a 71-56 win in the quarterfinal round of the South Atlantic Conference Men’s Basketball Championship on Wednesday at Tex Turner Arena.

Lincoln Memorial advances to the semifinal round for a showdown against the Queens Royal, who earned a lopsided 84-66 win over Wingate on Wednesday evening. The two teams will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday at Furman University’s Timmons Arena, with the winner moving on to the conference title game on Sunday.

With the win, Lincoln Memorial matches its 2013-14 team for the program and SAC single-season record for wins, improving to 28-1 overall. Last season, the Railsplitters reset the SAC single-season record for wins and winning percentage with a 28-3 overall ledger. In the midst of that team milestone, seniors Keenan Peterson (College Park, Ga.), Lorenza Ross (Savannah, Ga.) and C.J. Wakeley (Alachua, Fla.) become the all-time winningest players in SAC history. That trio has amassed a 107-16 record in its four years in the Blue and Gray, surpassing last year’s senior class (Vincent Bailey and Chance Jones) and their 106 career victories.

Wednesday was the second meeting between the Railsplitters and Tornados in the last 10 days, and the game played out in strikingly similar fashion to the one that was held back on February 23.

In that meeting last Monday, Brevard shot 48.4 percent in the first half and held a one-point halftime lead over a lethargic LMU squad. But the Railsplitters turned it on in the second half and outscored the Tornados by 13 points to capture an 87-75 victory in Brevard, N.C.

On Wednesday night, the Tornados used a 22-8 run midway through the first half to erase a 10-point deficit and grab a 37-33 lead with 2:05 left in the frame. A Gerel Simmons (Accokeek, Md.) four-point play in the waning seconds was the only thing that prevented the Railsplitters from trailing at the half once again.

LMU finished the first stanza on a 7-1 run to take a 40-38 lead into the break, but it was an entirely forgettable half of basketball for the South Atlantic Conference’s regular season champion. Brevard shot 46.4 percent in the frame and went 5-of-11 from three-point range. The Railsplitters shot 53.3 percent, but committed eight turnovers.

The Railsplitters showed a renewed vigor and owned the second stanza, though, blanketing the Tornados for the remaining 20 minutes of action. Like last Monday’s meeting, Lincoln Memorial outscored Brevard by 13 points, this time limiting the visiting unit to a mere 18 second-half points on a paltry 5-for-21 shooting (23.8 percent). The Tornados only had 13 points through the first 19 minutes of the half before their bench produced five points against LMU’s third unit in the final 53 seconds.

Curtis Webb (Spartanburg, S.C.) set the tone for the second half by draining a three-pointer just 10 seconds in, and the lead quickly bulged to 50-40 on two Curtis McMillion (Fayetteville, N.C.) free throws at 15:26. Three points from Darius Moose trimmed the deficit to nine, but a Ross jumper and two Tim Pierce (Albany, Ga.) free throws increased the lead to 56-43 with 12:04 left.

After two more Moose free throws, the Railsplitters ripped off a 7-2 run, capped by a Peterson jumper at 7:34, to push their advantage to 63-47. Simmons laid one in with 5:19 left to make it a 66-49 game, while another 5-0 spurt extended the lead to 71-51 with just a hair over a minute remaining in regulation.

It wasn’t exactly a spectacular offensive performance for the Railsplitters in the second frame, as they shot just 37 percent and went 1-for-6 from three-point territory.

Freshly crowned South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year Ross lived up to that title, scoring 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, dishing out seven assists and hauling in six rebounds while playing nearly every second of Wednesday’s contest. Ross was one of the lone bright sports for the Railsplitters in the first half, pouring in 11 points over that span.

Peterson was a monster on the block, scoring 14 points and grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds. The All-SAC second team selection nearly outrebounded the Tornados by himself, as LMU manhandled Brevard on the glass 47-22.

Pierce tallied 11 points in 21 minutes off the bench, while Webb collected 10 points and five rebounds.

The Railsplitters found a way to win despite an off night from All-SAC first team selection Luquon Choice (Laurens, S.C.), who went 0-for-5 from three and scored just two points in 29 minutes.

Collectively, Lincoln Memorial finished shooting 45.6 percent (26-for-57) from the field, 33.3 percent (6-for-18) from three and 72.2 percent (13-for-18) from the charity stripe.

Moose led the Tornados with 15 points, but he needed 12 shots to reach that mark. Wednesday’s contest marks the end of a wonderful career for Moose, who completed his tenure at Brevard with 1,513 points.

Miles Leathers added 12 points, all of which came in the first half, while Phil Wallace chipped in with 11 points in 24 minutes off the bench.

The Railsplitters are on their way to the semifinals of the SAC Championship for the sixth consecutive season. Lincoln Memorial won all three meetings against the Tornados this season, improving to 16-3 in the all-time series. The Railsplitters also improved to 10-2 in the SAC Championship since the 2011 tournament.

Lincoln Memorial heads to Greenville, S.C. on Saturday to square off against the Queens Royals in the semifinals of the SAC Championship. Tip-off is set for 5:30 p.m. at Timmons Arena.

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