HARROGATE, Tenn. — The 13th-ranked Railsplitters advanced to the semifinals of the South Atlantic Conference tournament by doing something that has eluded them in each of the last two seasons: beating Wingate for the third time. Top-seeded Lincoln Memorial held on for a gritty 78-72 victory over the eighth-seeded Bulldogs in quarterfinal action on Wednesday at Tex Turner Arena.
The Railsplitters (25-2) wrapped up the program’s fourth consecutive 25-win season with their eighth-straight win.Wingate (14-13) entered Wednesday’s contest hoping to defend back-to-back SAC tournament titles, both of which ran through the Railsplitters. Wingate topped LMU in the semifinals of the 2012 event and the finals of the 2013 championship despite dropping both regular-season contests against the Railsplitters leading up to those tournaments.
Lincoln Memorial finished shooting 46 percent (29-for-63) despite a 4-for-13 clip from beyond the three-point arc. The Railsplitters’ offensive outing was bolstered by a 16-for-23 effort at the free-throw line. Additionally, Lincoln Memorial logged a 40-33 advantage on the glass while limiting its turnover count to only 10.
SAC Player of the Year Vincent Bailey led all players with 23 points and 12 rebounds, recording his league-leading 14th double-double of the season. All-SAC Second Team selections Chance Jones and Lorenza Ross combined for 29 points to lead the LMU backcourt. Jones poured in 17 points on 5-of-12 shooting, while Ross contributed 12 points and eight assists.
Lincoln Memorial’s bench outscored the Bulldogs’ second unit, 20-6, and SAC All-Freshman Team selection Luquon Choice led that effort with eight points and three steals.
The Bulldogs controlled the pace for much of the first half, bulging out to a 21-14 advantage on a Deion Turman jumper at the 7:19 mark. Wingate retained a seven-point cushion after Ryan Daye drained a three-pointer with 4:36 left in the first half, but the Railsplitters finally gained some steam and closed the half on a 16-5 run to carry a 37-33 advantage into the break. Luquon Choice capped that flurry with a three-pointer as time expired in the opening frame.
The Railsplitters never relinquished the lead in the second half, but the Bulldogs threatened throughout the second stanza. Lincoln Memorial led by six with 18:57 left before Isiah Cureton and Turman canned back-to-back jumpers to cut the deficit to two. But, buckets by Keenan Peterson and Jones extended the lead back to six by the 16:49 mark. The Bulldogs trimmed the gap back to three points four times, but a jumper by Ross, a three-pointer by Jones and a bucket from Bailey propelled the Railsplitters to a 55-46 advantage with 12:47 left.
Wingate refused to go away, pulling to within two at the 10:20 mark on a Xavier Griffin jumper. After exchanging blows over the next three minutes and change, the Railsplitters put the Bulldogs away with a 9-0 run from 6:47 to 3:32. The ‘Dogs fought back to within four points on a Ryan Daye three with 33 seconds left, however, Lincoln Memorial went 5-for-6 from the free-throw line in the final three minutes to ice the game.
Wingate shot 43.6 percent (24-for-55) from the field and knocked down seven of its 13 three-point attempts, but struggled from the free-throw line with a 17-for-27 mark. Turman paced the Bulldogs with 18 points and four rebounds, while Griffin and Daye contributed 14 points apiece. Cureton pitched in 13 points and three rebounds.
The Railsplitters advance to the SAC semifinals for the fifth straight season, and fifth-seeded Newberry awaits after knocking off Lenoir-Rhyne on Wednesday. Lincoln Memorial is scheduled to square off with the Wolves on Saturday at noon inside of Timmons Arena in Greenville, S.C.