Conway, SC (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-seeded Winthrop Eagles have won the most Big South Conference titles with 10 total, and the third-seeded Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are the most recent league winners. The two programs will battle it out to determine the next conference champion Sunday at the HTC Center in the Big South title tilt.
The winner of this contest receives the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, which starts on March 17.
Winthrop took on ninth-seeded Longwood Saturday in the first semifinal match of the Big South Tournament, and easily defeated the Lancers by a 71-58 margin. The Eagles head into the championship game riding a three-game win streak.
Coastal Carolina had a more difficult time getting past Gardner-Webb in the semifinal round to reach the title game. The Chanticleers held on down the stretch to defeat the Runnin'Bulldogs, 73-70, in front of their home crowd. The 2014 Big South champions have won six of their last seven contests.
Winthrop and Coastal Carolina met just once during the regular season in a game that was played in the very building housing the conference championship Sunday. The Eagles prevailed in that matchup by a 75-68 score.
Winthrop was able to run to an early lead over Longwood Saturday in the semifinal match as the Eagles put the clamps down defensively in the opening frame. The Lancers shot just 22.7 percent from the floor in the first half, as Winthrop went into the intermission holding a 30-20 lead. The Eagles increased that lead to as many as 16 points midway through the second period en route to the easy victory. Keon Johnson led the way for Winthrop with 15 points, while Keon Moore chipped in with 14 points and five rebounds. Andre Smith and Xavier Cooks each contributed 11 points for the Eagles in the winning effort.
Moore paced the team heading into the semifinal clash Saturday in the scoring department. The redshirt senior was averaging a team-best 18.8 ppg before the battle against Longwood, and he'll be looking to duplicate his 22-point, eight-rebound effort he put forth the first time the Eagles played Coastal Carolina at HTC Center this season. Johnson and Smith trailed Moore in the scoring category before Saturday, with each player netting 11.2 ppg for a Winthrop squad that was hitting 45.2 percent of its shots for 73.8 ppg. The Eagles buried 47.4 percent of their field goal attempts against Coastal the last time the teams met, and hit on 13-of-16 from the free-throw line in the victory.
Coastal Carolina buried 51.7 percent of its first-half field goal attempts against Gardner-Webb Saturday in the other semifinal matchup, and led the Runnin' Bulldogs wire-to-wire to earn their spot in the Big South title game yet again. This contest wasn't as one-sided as Winthrop's match, but the Chants were aided by three double-digit scorers that helped keep them ahead the entire game. Badou Diagne netted 19 points to led the charge, while Elijah Wilson chipped in with 13 points and Tristan Curtis added 11 points with eight rebounds. The Chants beat Winthrop in last year's Big South championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament, so there's even more of a revenge factor here.
Josh Cameron and Warren Gillis each scored eight points in the win Saturday over Gardner-Webb, which was a bit uncharacteristic of them considering they went into the semifinal contest netting a team-high 13.0 ppg apiece. Wilson contributed 10.7 ppg, and Shivaughn Wiggins added 10.4 ppg for a Coastal Carolina squad that averaged 71.4 ppg. Wiggins led the way against Winthrop last time out with 18 points, while Gillis and Diagne each contributed 13 points. Diagne pulled down nine boards in the team's seven-point loss to the Eagles, who only got 15 minutes of floor time from Cameron after the senior came off the bench.