SAC Champions!

Published 1:16 pm Monday, March 5, 2018

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Dorian Pinson scored a career-high 31 points, including the eventual game-winning bucket with seven seconds left, to carry the No. 1 ranked and top-seeded Railsplitters to a 77-75 win over the No. 5 ranked and second-seeded Queens Royals in the title game of the South Atlantic Conference Championship on Sunday at Timmons Arena.

Lincoln Memorial (30-1), who fell to Queens 75-72 in last season’s SAC title game, earned some payback and captured the program’s fourth SAC tournament championship. The Railsplitters – responsible for all three of Queens’ (28-3) losses this season – also extended their winning streak to 19 games and notched the fourth consecutive 30-win season in program history.

“I am really proud of our guys for hanging in there on a night where we were outcoached and for most of the game outplayed,” said LMU head coach Josh Schertz. “We just have incredibly tough and competitive kids who refused to give in and we rode their backs to the finish line.”

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On a night where the Railsplitters’ other two All-SAC first team selections – Trevon Shaw (0 points, 0-for-3 FGs) and Emanuel Terry (8 points) – didn’t have their best stuff, Pinson was transcendent. The 6-5 senior scored a career-high 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, six steals, five assists and two blocks to will the Railsplitters to victory.

After powering Lincoln Memorial as it rallied back from a nine-point first-half deficit and acquired a late 11-point lead, Pinson made the biggest shot of the game after the Railsplitters squandered that lead. The forward buried a contested eight-foot runner in the lane with seven seconds left to give LMU a 77-75 advantage that it would not relinquish.

Pinson’s heroic yet unsurprising effort was backed by an unexpected source, as Kamaran Calhoun lifted the Railsplitters with a career-high 19 points on 6-of-9 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench. Cornelius Taylor added 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting.

The trio of Pinson, Taylor and Calhoun combined for 38 of the Lincoln Memorial’s 41 second-half points to lead the Railsplitters back from a five-point halftime deficit.

“Dorian was obviously special even for his impossibly high standard,” Schertz said. “Kamaran is an absolute warrior and Cornelius made some huge shots for us down the stretch. I was really pleased with everyone who played because I thought we were really persistent defensively even though everyone outside of those three struggled mightily offensively.

“Both of these teams are filled with champions and that’s what makes these matchups so special year in and year out. We were just fortunate to make one more play than them tonight.”

Defense was also the catalyst for the Railsplitters, as they held Queens to 39.6 percent shooting, including a miserable 8-for-28 effort (28.6 percent) in the second half.

Todd Withers, who missed the potential game-tying bucket from point-blank range as time expired, led Queens with 18 points, while Jalin Alexander scored 17 points and grabbed a team-leading eight rebounds. Daniel Carr chipped in 14 points while Shaun Willett pitched in 10 in 16 minutes off the bench.

Much like Saturday’s SAC semifinal game against Wingate, the Railsplitters started slow offensively, hitting just one of their first seven shots while suffering through a more than five-minute scoring drought. That helped the Royals race out to a 9-2 lead with 14:32 left in the first half.

The Railsplitters heated up after that but a 6-for-10 start for Queens found Lincoln Memorial trailing 19-11 at the under-12 media timeout.

A dunk by Terry and a bucket from Pinson closed the gap to 23-20 at the 8:42 mark, but the Royals expanded their lead back to eight at 34-26 with 3:52 left in the frame. Queens led by as many as nine points with less than two minutes remaining until a late tip-in from Pinson cut LMU’s halftime deficit to 41-36.

Queens shot 52 percent in the first half, powered by a perfect 12-point half from Alexander, to send the Railsplitters into the break trailing for just the third time all season and the first time since January 13 at Queens.

Back-to-back buckets from Pinson and Taylor ended a more than 20-minute stretch in which Queens led and tied the game at 44-44 with 17:05 left to play. Carr buried a three on the other end to help the Royals briefly reclaim the lead before the Railsplitters ripped off an 8-0 run fueled by five points from Pinson to take a 52-47 lead with less than 14 minutes remaining.

The Railsplitters never trailed after that but the Royals never went away, either.

After Queens pulled within two on two separate occasions, a 5-0 run from Pinson increased the Railsplitter lead to 65-56 with 7:51 to play. A little over three minutes later, Calhoun converted two free throws to give the Railsplitters what looked like an insurmountable 73-62 cushion with 4:36 left.

However, some sloppy play and cold shooting allowed the Royals to nearly rally all the way back, as Queens used a 13-2 run that was capped by two free throws from Carr to tie the game at 75-75 with 18 seconds left.

Ultimately, the comeback bid was all for naught, though, as Pinson’s game-winner sent Lincoln Memorial to the SAC title.

Pinson was selected as the SAC Championship Most Valuable Player for his efforts, while Shaw and Terry also earned a spot on the SAC Championship All-Tournament Team, it was announced by tournament officials following Sunday’s game.

By virtue of Sunday’s victory, the Railsplitters earn the SAC’s automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship.