6th ranked Railsplitters advance to regional semis with 95-62 rout of North Greenville

HARROGATE, Tenn. – It wasn’t that the sixth-ranked Railsplitters (30-2) had to validate their legitimacy as the region’s No. 1 seed, but, in the aftermath of a lethargic, double-digit point loss in the title game of the South Atlantic Conference Championship, there might have been an unspoken drive to prove that the road to the Elite Eight rightfully travels through Lincoln Memorial.

The top-seeded Railsplitters erased every shred of doubt with a 95-62 walloping of the eighth-seeded North Greenville Crusaders (22-10) in the opening round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional on Saturday at Tex Turner Arena.

“We certainly got a lot of truth last Sunday down in Greenville,” said LMU head coach Josh Schertz. “[Our guys] took truth the right way. It doesn’t solve all of your problems, but I thought we practiced with better focus and better energy, and we played today with tremendous focus on both sides of the floor.”

The Railsplitters put on an absolute show offensively, shredding the nation’s 18th-ranked field-goal percent defense to the tone of a 57.1 percent mark (36-for-63). Lincoln Memorial’s offensive attack was especially dominant from beyond the three-point line, where they went an absurd 16-for-23, which works out to a 69.3 percent clip.

Coincidentally, the Railsplitters have not matched that three-point output in a game since February 20, 2007, when they went 21-for-44 in a loss at North Greenville. The eruption was made all the more amazing by the fact that it came on the tail end of an ice-cold stretch of shooting. The Railsplitters entered Saturday’s NCAA Tournament just 17-for-67 from the three in the past four games combined.

“I thought we were a hungry team today,” Schertz said. “When we’re a hungry team, when we have an edge and when we’re aggressive on both sides of the ball, I think we’re as good as any team in the country.”

Senior Keenan Peterson (College Park, Ga.) racked up 23 points on 11-of-15 shooting and picked up a game-high 12 rebounds. Daktronics All-Southeast Region first team selection Lorenza Ross (Savannah, Ga.) busted out of his slump and scored 20 points with three three-pointers to go along with four assists and three rebounds. Gerel Simmons (Accokeek, Md.) sparked Lincoln Memorial in just 16 minutes off the bench with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting and a 4-for-4 mark from deep. Curtis Webb (Spartanburg, S.C.) pitched in 10 points in 22 minutes.

The Railsplitters’ bench played a key role in Saturday’s outcome, outscoring North Greenville’s second unit 31-6.

The Railsplitters threatened to put the game completely out of reach in the first half and would have done so if not for the Herculean effort of Korval McElroy. A jumper by Peterson extended Lincoln Memorial’s lead to 27-14 with 7:48 left in the opening frame, but McElroy went on an absolute tear to wind down the half, scoring 13 of the Crusaders’ 15 points in the last 7:14 to whittle LMU’s halftime cushion to 38-29.

Any lingering thoughts that a potential upset was brewing were completely washed away in the second half, as the Railsplitters opened with a 22-8 run to assume a 60-37 edge at the 15:03 mark. The Crusaders briefly responded with a 7-0 spurt to cut the deficit to 60-45 by 13:34, but Lincoln Memorial would hold North Greenville without a point for a nearly six-minute stretch, bulging the lead to 74-45 with a 14-0 run that finally came to a close at the 7:51 mark.

The lead just continued to grow from there, though, as threes from Dorian Pinson (Greenville, S.C.), Simmons and Ross made it an 85-53 game with 4:27 to play. The margin stayed in the 30s even when Lincoln Memorial called off the cavalry with more than three minutes left, as Hunter Spaw (Bean Station, Tenn.) buried two three-pointers in the final minute of regulation to push the final margin to 33.

The Railsplitters are advancing to the semifinals of the Southeast Regional for the fourth-consecutive season, but they will be looking to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history on Sunday night.

With the win, Lincoln Memorial becomes the first team in South Atlantic Conference history and the second in the history of the men’s basketball program to win 30 games in a single season. The Railsplitters matched the 1976-77 team for the most wins in single-season history.

The Railsplitters limited North Greenville to a 41.8 percent (23-for-55) mark from the floor and a 12.5 percent (2-for-16) effort from three-point territory. The Crusaders – making their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance – entered Saturday’s semifinal contest ranked eighth in the nation in field-goal percentage with a cumulative 50.5 percent mark.

North Greenville shot 50 percent in the opening half, but was limited to just a 10-for-29 clip (34.5 percent) in the second frame.

McElroy paced the Crusaders with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while Lashawn Alexander chipped in 16 points on a 7-of-12 mark.

The Crusaders’ leading scorer and the Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year Spencer Reaves finished with just six points on 1-of-9 shooting.

Despite being outscored 32-30 in the paint, the Railsplitters accounted for a 40-23 rebounding edge. Lincoln Memorial assisted on 19 of their 36 field goals, dishing out 15 or more assists for the 17th time this season.

Lincoln Memorial advances to the semifinals of the NCAA Southeast Regional to face the winner of No. 4 Mount Olive and No. 5 GRU Augusta. That contest tips off at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday at Tex Turner Arena.

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