MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. – UNC Asheville had two shots miss in the final seconds as the Bulldogs fell to Winthrop 80-79 in the semifinals of the Big South Conference Tournament.
Asheville (17-15) was led by 23 points from freshman guard Andrew Rowsey, 22 points from Jaron Lane and 21 points and 11 rebounds for D.J. Cunningham.
Winthrop (20-12) was led by Keon Moore with 20 points. Keon Johnson and Joab Jerome finished with 16 points each. The Eagles will play the winner of Saturday’s other semifinal game between VMI and Coastal Carolina on Sunday at Noon.
The Bulldogs trailed by eight 72-64 with six minutes left before making a furious rally at the end.
Winthrop led 80-79 after two free throws from Cunningham at the 1:02 mark. Johnson tried to give the Eagles some breathing room but his shot was blocked by Cunningham with Lane coming down with the rebound.
The Bulldogs called timeout with 27.5 seconds left to set up a final play. Rowsey made a nice move inside but his shot wouldn’t fall. Lane came down with the rebound and his five-footer spun in and out. Lane was able to get a tie-up for a jump ball on a scramble with the rebound with 0.2 seconds remaining.
The officiating crew chose not to review the play to see if there was any more time on the clock.
Asheville tried to get the ball inbounds to Lane, but the ball was knocked away by Winthrop as time expired.
“First of all, congratulations to Winthrop. Their players and staff did an excellent job today. They’re playing well and have won five straight games,” stated first year Bulldog coach Nick McDevitt. “At tournament time, it’s a lot about the team that’s playing well at that time, and they are.
“I’m very proud of our basketball team. There’s a lot to the young men in that locker room. There’s a lot of disappointed young men,” added McDevitt. “When you go through some of the adversity playing a tough schedule and having some of your teammates we counted on go down, it would be easy to fold your tents and go away.
“We didn’t do that this season and we didn’t do it today. It’s a tough pill to swallow,” added McDevitt. “A one-point game that comes down to 0.2 seconds, it could have gone either way, but hat’s off to Winthrop.”
The Eagles were red-hot from the field in the opening half. Winthrop went 18-of-27 from the field for 67 percent and knocked down 5-of-7 long distance shots to build a 48-42 halftime lead.
Moore paced the Eagle attack with 14 points, while Jerome contributed nine points.
Asheville was able to hang in the first half thanks to Cunningham and Lane who combined for 21 points. Rowsey had eight points in the first five minutes but didn’t score the rest of the half.
The Bulldogs shot 48 percent (12-of-25) from the field and 50 percent (5-of-10) from beyond the arc. Asheville hit its first 13 free throws before and went 13-of-14 from the charity stripe.
The Eagles dominated inside and outscored the Dogs in the paint, 22-12.
Asheville roared back in the second half as the Bulldogs took a 55-52 lead on a Rowsey trey. The Bulldogs just couldn’t maintain the lead as the Eagles went on an 8-0 run that was culminated on a foul and technical foul on Cunningham with six minutes left.
Winthrop hit two free throws to push the lead to 72-64 and then missed on the ensuing possession.
The Bulldogs then rallied as they went on an 11-2 run over the next two minutes to race to a 75-74 lead on two free throws from Lane.
Asheville had two chances to go up three but both times inside shots just wouldn’t fall.
Asheville’s last lead was 77-76 with two minutes left before Johnson hit acrobatic shots in the lane to give Winthrop an 80-79 lead.
The Bulldogs shot 48 percent from the field (25-of-52) and 50 percent (9-of-18) from beyond the arc. Winthrop knocked down 58 percent (29-of-50) of its field goal attempts and 55 percent (6-of-11) of its three-point shots.
UNC Asheville goes 16-8 after starting the year 1-7… Andrew Rowsey scores in double figures for the 28th straight games....Jaron Lane scored 22 points and has more than 20 points for the sixth straight game…the Bulldogs had three players with more than 20 points for the first time in a Big South Tournament game… D.J. Cunningham finishes his career with 819 career rebounds and 281 blocked shots. He is fourth all-time in rebounds at Asheville and the school's all-time leader in blocks. Cunningham blocked four more shots to give him 98 for the season, an Asheville single-season record.