GREENVILLE, SC (LMU Release) - The top-seeded and 13th-ranked Railsplitters added another banner to the growing collection in the Tex Turner Arena rafters on Sunday in Greenville, South Carolina. Lincoln Memorial used a pair of big scoring runs and withstood the pesky Anderson Trojans 76-71 to win the 2014 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference Men's Basketball Championship title at Timmons Arena.
The Railsplitters (27-2) punctuated the program's second-consecutive and third SAC regular-season championship in four seasons with Sunday's win, their eighth-straight victory, making Lincoln Memorial the first men's basketball program to win both the regular season and league tournament titles since the Railsplitters themselves accomplished that feat in 2011.
Lincoln Memorial earns the South Atlantic Conference's automatic bid to next week's NCAA Southeast Regional but, more importantly, the Railsplitters bolstered its tournament resume with a win over Anderson (22-9), ranked fifth in the most recent Southeast Region poll. The Railsplitters are vying to host the Southeast Regional, but they need some help from USC Aiken in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament. Lincoln Memorial has been ranked second in every regional poll this season, while the Pacers have held down the top spot - which serves as the host site - since the rankings were first unveiled.
South Atlantic Conference Player of the Year and SAC Championship All-Tournament selection Vincent Bailey (Jennings, FL) led the Railsplitters with 19 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes of action, narrowly missing his 16th double-double of the season and third of the SAC Championship. Also named to the All-Tournament Team, sophomore Tim Pierce (Albany, GA) posted 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field in 29 minutes to lead the LMU backcourt. Luquon Choice (Laurens, SC) paced a 23-7 advantage for the Railsplitters off the bench with 14 points in 25 minutes. Choice canned four of his eight three-point attempts. Chance Jones (Knoxville, TN) finished with nine points, eight rebounds and four assists, while Keenan Peterson (College Park, GA) collected nine rebounds in 18 minutes.
The Railsplitters nearly doubled up the Trojans on the glass, securing a 42-23 rebounding margin with 17 offensive boards - two of which proved vital in the closing minute - that led to 21 second-chance points. Lincoln Memorial finished shooting 47.3 percent (26-for-55) with a 9-for-20 clip from three-point range and a 15-for-23 effort at the free-throw line.
Lincoln Memorial overcame a courageous outing from Chandler Hash, the SAC Championship MVP, who paired with CJ Cleaton to score 55 of the Trojans' 71 points. Hash poured in a game-high 32 points on 11-of-23 shooting with five three-pointers, while Gleaton notched 23 points with six rebounds and two steals. Sunday's performance came less than 24 hours after Hash and Gleaton combined for 76 points in a semifinal win over the Coker Cobras on Saturday.
The Railsplitters held an early 7-4 lead after Bailey nailed a jumper at the 16:20 mark of the opening half, but the Trojans used three-pointers by Hash and Gleaton to rope off a 12-0 run that swung the contest in Anderson's favor 17-7 with 12:21 left in the first. The Railsplitters responded with an even bigger run, limiting Anderson to only two free throws during a 23-2 run that consumed seven minutes of game clock. Bailey's lay-up with 5:32 left capped the rally that propelled Lincoln Memorial to a 30-19 advantage.
The Trojans trimmed the lead back to 35-32 at the half as Hash paced a 13-5 Trojan run over the final 5:12 with a pair of treys. Hash continued his antics to open the second stanza, scoring a lay-up on a backdoor cut and draining a three to give the Trojans a 37-35 lead with 18:12 remaining. But, the Railsplitters logged their second run of the contest - a 19-6 flourish - over the next 8:16 to bulge the lead back to 54-43 with 10:56 to play.
Lincoln Memorial clung to a double-digit lead for the majority of the next seven minutes, bolstering to a 69-57 advantage on a Tim Pierce trifecta at the 3:41 mark. But, the gritty Trojans refused to go quietly. Gleaton drained four free throws and Chris Ross rolled in a lay-up to cut the LMU lead to 69-63 with 1:26 remaining. The two teams traded a pair of free throws in back-to-back possessions before Myson Jones connected on a three-pointer with 36 seconds left to bring the Trojans within four.
The Railsplitters went 4-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final seconds, but two offensive rebounds by Curtis McMillion (Fayetteville, NC) proved decisive. Anderson sent Chance Jones to the line with 31 seconds left. After making the first to extend the lead to five, he missed the second and McMillion scrambled for the board. McMillion went to the line and made one of two to extend the lead to six. Gleaton popped another three in Anderson's next possession and Luquon Choice was fouled on the ensuing inbounds pass. Choice clanked both freebies, but McMillion grabbed the offensive board, absorbed the foul and drained both free throws to cap the 76-71 victory.
The Trojans finished shooting 43.4 percent with a 23-for-53 overall mark from the field. Anderson drained eight of its 23 three-point attempts and 17 of its 22 free-throw tries. Anderson converted 15 LMU turnovers into 19 points.
Lincoln Memorial will learn both its opponent and the site of the 2014 NCAA Southeast Regional on Sunday night via a live NCAA.com selection show, which airs at 10:30 pm. The quarterfinals are scheduled to be held on Saturday, March 15.