The Big South Tournament had a big day on Thursday, as eight teams squared off in the quarterfinal round. Charleston Southern, High Point, Gardner-Webb and VMI all played their first games after getting early-round byes, and three of those four will be playing in the semifinals on Saturday. Let's recap the action.
The presumed favorites to walk away with the automatic NCAA bid, Charleston Southern prevailed in an ugly game for offense. The Buccaneers managed to shoot a dreadful 28 percent from the field, and Winthrop wasn't much better with 32 percent. However, the Bucs dominated the boards (40 rebounds to Winthrop's 24) and made 90.5 percent of their free throws. In the end, it was just enough to move on to the next round. CSU will face VMI in the semifinals.
The 8-24 Lancers had the biggest upset of the first round, and came close to pulling off another one. They cut a 17 point deficit to just two, outscoring the Keydets 43-35 in the second half, but their comeback came up just short. Stan Okoye led VMI with 31 points, and two other players had more than 20. Michael Kessens had the most valiant effort for Longwood, racking up 36 points and 16 rebounds. VMI will play Charleston Southern on Saturday.
It was equal opportunity night in Conway, as five Bulldog players got 10 or more points, with Tyler Strange leading the crowd at 14. Gardner-Webb took advantage of free throws (Campbell committed 21 personal fouls) and a rebound advantage (34 to Campbell's 23) to end the Camels' season. The Bulldogs move on to play Liberty on Saturday.
This tournament has had its fair share of upsets already. High Point was considered one of the favorites in this league, but the Flames went out to a huge 39-22 halftime lead. High Point came storming back, taking the lead late in the game, but a Lorenzo Cugini layup with four seconds left sent the Panthers packing. The main difference here was free throws. Liberty was nearly flawless (17 of 18), while High Point struggled, only making 69.2 percent from the line. The 13-20 Flames now take on Gardner-Webb on Saturday, and are only two wins away from the Big Dance. We might have our first Cinderella of the March Madness season.