Winthrop defeats Campbell 76-59 in Big South final

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

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ROCK HILL, S.C. – Tournament MVP Keon Johnson scored 26 points to lead top-seeded Winthrop to a 76-59 win over Campbell Sunday in the title game of the Big South Championship at Winthrop Coliseum.

After finishing as tournament runner-up the last three years, the Eagles (26-6) used quick starts in both halves to build a lead against the seventh-seeded Camels (17-17) and earn the league's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

Johnson scored 20 of his points in the second half, including nine in the first 2:36, to lead Winthrop to its 11th Big South title and first since 2010.  All-tournament team pick Xavier Cooks added 17 points, 14 rebounds and five assists, while Roderick Perkins scored all 15 of his points in the first 11:41 of the game.

All-tournament selection Chris Clemons led Campbell with 29 points, while Marcus Burk chipped in 11. Andrew Eudy scored 8 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked 3 shots for the Camels, who won their last four games before losing in the team's first final appearance since 1994.

Campbell defeated Presbyterian in Tuesday's first round, then knocked off second-seed and co-regular season champ UNC Asheville 81-79 Thursday behind Clemons' record 51-point outburst.  CU then downed sixth seed Radford 66-50 Friday to become the first seventh seed to reach the final since VMI in 2012.

Winthrop, however, made 13 more free throws (20-26) than Campbell attempted (6-7) and knocked down 12-of-14 in the second half, while the Camels toed the stripe just once.

Perkins scored all of his points before Johnson made a bucket – and Winthrop led 41-34 at the break.  The Eagles jumped to an early 12-2 lead before Campbell answered with an 11-2 burst.  Burk made back-to-back threes to bring the Camels even at 21 with 9:43 to play in the period.  However, Winthrop scored nine unanswered points and took a seven point edge into the dressing room.

The Big South player of the year, Johnson hit a pair of triples and made three free throws as the Eagles opened the final period on an 11-2 run.  Campbell was unable to cut the margin to single digits despite Clemons' 19 second-half points.

A sophomore guard from Raleigh, Clemons finished the tournament with a record 140 points in four games (35 per outing) and also set league tourney marks for field goals (48) and 3-pointers made (20).

Clemons raised his Big South-leading scoring average to 24.5 points (3rd in the nation) by posting his 21st 20-plus point effort in 33 games this year.  With 810 points, Clemons has shattered the school single-season record (739) set by 1987 Big South player of the year Clarence Grier.

After playing its fourth game in six days (and third in the last four), Campbell finished the day shooting 35 percent from the floor (22-63) and making 9-of-36 threes (.250).  Winthrop, meanwhile, hit 45 percent (23-51) of its shots, 10-of-26 (.385) beyond the arc. 

"I'm so proud of our team," said fourth-year head coach Kevin McGeehan, who led Campbell to its first title game berth in 23 years.  "We had a program-changing week and played multiple games shorthanded.  Today, it just looked like we had some tired legs out there.  Obviously, it's disappointing to lose in the championship game, but I'm really proud of how these guys played this week."

The Camels played the last two games without senior guard Kyre' Hamer, who re-injured his shoulder in the second half of the quarterfinal win over Asheville.