Camels eliminate Asheville in Big South quarters behind Clemons' 51

Chris Clemons
(Carlos Morales/BigSouthPhotos.com)
Chris Clemons (Carlos Morales/BigSouthPhotos.com)

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ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Chris Clemons scored a conference record 51 points and Campbell upset regular season co-champion UNC Asheville 81-79 Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the Big South Championship at Winthrop Coliseum.

The seventh-seeded Camels (16-16) shot 55.8 percent from the floor and made 11-of-21 threes to win their third-straight game and oust the second-seeded Bulldogs (23-9).

Campbell will face sixth-seeded Radford (14-17) in Friday's 6:00 p.m. semifinal.  The Highlanders ousted third seed Liberty 56-52 in Thursday's second quarterfinal.

A sophomore from Raleigh who entered the game as the nation's fifth-leading scorer (23.2), Clemons scored 23 of Campbell's first 25 points and had 25 at the break as the Camels took a 36-35 half-time lead over the defending champs.

Kyre' Hamer scored all nine of his points in the second half while Andrew Eudy added eight, plus seven rebounds and three assists for the Camels, who rallied from a 14-point deficit in the first half and trailed 67-61 with 7:02 left in the game.  Cory Gensler pulled down nine rebounds.

Big South freshman of the year MaCio Teague led Asheville with 22 points, including 4-of-10 threes.  Alec Wnuk added 13 points and nine rebounds, while Ahmad Thomas, David Robertson and Raekwon Miller had 12 apiece.

"I thought our guys played really, really hard and were poised beyond belief," said Campbell head coach Kevin McGeehan. "Chris obviously played lights out, an unbelievable game. He's all-world in my book. I'm proud of my team. We've had some ups and downs this year, a couple of injuries at inopportune times, but we kept playing and kept getting better.  We've started seeing it come together and it culminated today. It was a great win for the program and I'm excited to get an opportunity to play another day."

A first-team all-conference performer, Clemons broke the Big South Conference record of 46 points set by Towson State's Devin Boyd vs. UMBC Feb. 27, 1993 and the Big South tournament mark of 36 by Michael Kessens of Longwood vs. VMI in the 2013 quarterfinals.

Clemons shattered Campbell's all-time single-game scoring record of 46 points, set by George Lehmann vs. Brewton Parker (Jan. 15, 1960) in the junior college era and matched by Johnny Marshbanks vs. Mars Hill on Dec. 1, 1967 in the NAIA era.  The previous school mark for the Division I era was 39 points set by Clarence Grier against Virginia Wesleyan on Jan. 7, 1987.

Coming off a 27-point outing Tuesday in Campbell's 81-62 first round win over Presbyterian in Buies Creek, Clemons hit his first four shots and 18-of-32 on the day, including 8-of-14 threes.  He eclipsed the school mark for most points in a Big South tournament game (32) set by Henry Wilson vs. Asheville in 1987 and matched by Scott Neely against Radford in 1994.

"My teammates did a good job of finding me in open areas," said Clemons, whose previous high was 37 against Charleston Southern on Jan. 4.  "I created a little for myself, but my teammates were very unselfish today getting me the ball and putting me in great positions to score."

Asheville scored 16 unanswered points and led 23-9 after Teague hit both ends of a 1-and-1 with 9:15 to go.  Campbell ended a 7:27 scoring drought and started a 19-2 burst on Mogga Lado's dunk off Shane Whitfield's feed with 9:01 to play.

Clemons rattled off the next 14 points and the Camels led 28-25 after Marcus Burk knocked down three free throws with 3:19 to go in the period.  Campbell shot 58 percent (14-24) in the opening half and made 5-of-10 triples.

In the second half alone, the score was tied six occasions and the lead changed hands six times. Thomas' leaning jumper from the left baseline fell in to give Asheville a 67-61 edge with 7:03 to play.  Gensler missed a three, but Whitfield grabbed the rebound and found Clemons for a corner three that started a personal 9-0 run.

His pullup trey with 4:27 to go gave the Camels the lead for good at 70-67, but the margin stayed within two possessions down the stretch.  Asheville had two shots to tie the score at 77 in the final minute, but Teague and Robertson missed on the same possession and Gensler grabbed the rebound.

Clemons missed at the rim, but Eudy's stickback put the Camels up 79-74 with 22 seconds to go.  After a missed front end by Clemons – his only miss from the line in 8 attempts Thursday – Teague's three bounced off and Marcus Burk grabbed the rebound and knocked down both ends of a 1-and-1 with 4.9 to play.

Notes:

  • The victory ended a 10-game losing streak for the Camels against Asheville and sent Campbell to its conference semifinal game for the first time since the 2007 Atlantic Sun Championship.
  • Clemons also set a school single-season record for points scored (748), breaking the old mark of 739 by 1987 Big South player of the year Clarence Grier. 
  • Clemons (51) and Hamer (9) also combined to equal the school record for points scored in a game by two players – set by Mark Mocnik (30) and Henry Wilson (30) exactly 28 years ago (Mar. 2, 1989) in the Big South quarters against Augusta, also at the Winthrop Coliseum.
  • Ironically, the seventh seed has defeated the second seed each of the last four times they have met in the Big South quarters.  High Point defeated second seed Liberty in the 2011 quarterfinals, while VMI downed Coastal Carolina in 2012.  The match up didn't happen in either 2013 or 2014 due to divisional matchups before seventh-seeded Gardner-Webb defeated High Point in overtime at the 2015 event.  Last year, 10th-seeded Presbyterian upset 7th-seeded Radford in the first round.
  • Clemons' effort Thursday marked only the second time in the last 20 seasons that a player has scored at least 50 points in a Division I conference tournament. Jimmer Fredette had 52 points for BYU against New Mexico in the 2011 Mountain West Conference tourney.