FRISCO, Texas -- The top-seeded and No. 1 nationally-ranked Railsplitters (33-2) used a 21-0 run to claw back from the depths and later authored a 17-0 run to establish an insurmountable lead in a 93-75 triumph over the 19th-ranked Barry Buccaneers (26-7) in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II Elite Eight on Wednesday afternoon, March 23 at Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas. Lincoln Memorial advances to the national semifinals to face the winner of West Liberty and Stonehill at 7 p.m. (ET) on Thursday.
The Railsplitters trailed by as many as 11 points late in the first half, but rallied all the way back to take the lead before the break. Lincoln Memorial then raced away from the Buccaneers in the second half to capture its 23rd straight win, breaking the program and South Atlantic Conference record for longest winning streak, and advance to the NCAA Tournament's Final Four. The Railsplitters will be making their first-ever Final Four appearance in the school's NCAA era and second since the 1976-77 team finished fourth in the NAIA national tournament.
Six players hit double figures for the Railsplitters, led by Emanuel Terry's (Enterprise, Ala.) third double-double of the season, as he finished with 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and four blocks. It marked Terry's second straight 20-point performance after the sophomore center went the entire regular season without recording a 20-point game.
"I really just went out and tried to perform to the best of my ability," Terry said after the game. "Coach stayed on me about getting to the glass and protecting the rim, and that's really what I'm supposed to do."
Luquon Choice (Laurens, S.C.) scored 17 points with six assists and four rebounds, while Gerel Simmons (Accokeek, Md.) tallied 16 points with six rebounds and three assists. Dorian Pinson (Greenville, S.C.) had 12 points, five steals, four rebounds and three assists, while Jalen Steele (Knoxville, Tenn.) contributed 12 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Curtis McMillion (Fayetteville, N.C.) notched 11 points and 11 rebounds, with all but three rebounds coming at the tail end of the first half.
The Railsplitters shot 47 percent in the contest, connecting on 34 of their 73 shot attempts, including an 8-for-21 mark (38 percent) from three-point range. The margin of victory would have been greater if not for an off night at the charity stripe, where the Railsplitters went 17-for-29.
Barry jumped out to a red-hot start, draining five of its first six shot attempts to grab a 12-9 lead at the under-16 media timeout of the first half. The Buccaneers' advantage grew to 14-9 on a bucket by Yunio Barrueta at the 14:53 mark, but Lincoln Memorial used a quick 8-2 spurt - powered by six straight points from McMillion - to grab a 17-16 lead a little over a minute later.
However, Barry would regain the momentum over the next passage of play, as Barrueta knocked down back-to-back contested three-pointers to push the Buccaneers back out to a 22-17 lead, while Arie Williams buried another three to increase the Bucs lead to 25-17 with less than 12 minutes left in the half.
The Railsplitters whittled Barry's lead down to two points at 27-25 on a three-pointer from Choice at the 9:35 mark, but two free throws by Barrueta capped an 11-2 run that gave the Buccaneers their largest lead of the game at 38-27 with five minutes remaining in the half.
"We just got punched in the mouth," LMU head coach Josh Schertz said. "I told the guys in the huddle that it looked like we were playing our big brother. They were physical, moving us around and quicker to loose balls and we were slow offensively."
Facing their largest deficit since trailing Lenoir-Rhyne by 18 points on January 30, the Railsplitters found an answer, shifting their attention to the defensive end to spark a 21-0 run that consumed the remainder of the first half as well as the opening minutes of the second.
McMillion kicked off that run by scoring five straight points, cutting the deficit to 38-32 following an old-fashioned three-point play at the 4:28 mark. A little over a minute later, Steele knocked down a three-pointer to pull the Railsplitters within two, while back-to-back buckets from Simmons and Terry gave Lincoln Memorial the lead at 40-38 with 1:13 left. Terry slammed home the final basket of the half with 29 seconds left to send the Railsplitters into the break riding a 15-0 run and sporting a 42-38 lead.
"We just kind of settled in and a couple of shots went down," Schertz said. "The key was that we started defending. And once we started defending at a higher level we were able to force some misses and that gave us pace offensively."
Said senior guard Gerel Simmons, "In that first eight minutes or so, a lot of the shots we were taking weren't great shots and the ball wasn't going in like it was for us in the first half of the regional. We just had to focus more on the defensive end instead of letting our offense dictate how we're playing. Once we focused on the defensive end, things got better and the ball started going in more."
The Railsplitters continued to push the pace early in the second half, as Choice hit a triple on LMU's first possession and Steele canned another one in the following possession to increase the Railsplitters' lead to 48-38. Barry would finally snap LMU's 21-0 run at the 17:41 mark of the second half, ending a more than eight-minute scoring drought with a basket from Tray Leonard.
The next few minutes would see Barry battle back into the game, as the Buccaneers used a pair of free throws from Leonard to pull within four points at 54-50 with 13:19 left. The Railsplitters never relinquished the lead, maintaining a four to seven point edge over the next passage of play until a three-point point by Adrian Gonzalez closed the gap to 63-60 with a hair under 10 minutes left.
But that's when the Railsplitters unleashed their next run, ripping off a 17-0 spurt to turn a close game into a virtual runaway. Steele capped that flurry with a corner three-pointer at the 6:10 mark, which put the Railsplitters ahead 80-60. From there, the writing was on the wall, as Lincoln Memorial led by as many as 21 points and never led by less than 16.
The Railsplitters absolutely dominated the second half defensively, limiting Barry to just 13-for-37 shooting (35.1 percent), including a dreadful 4-for-15 mark (26.7 percent) from three-point range. Lincoln Memorial also forced the Buccaneers to commit nine second-half turnovers.
"That was probably as good of 20 minutes on the defensive side of the ball that we've put together all year," Schertz said.
Barry finished shooting 40 percent (28-for-70) in the game with an 8-for-26 effort (30.8 percent) from three-point range. The Bucs converted 11 of their 17 free-throw attempts.
Yunio Barrueta led Barry with a game-high 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Leonard had 16 points and six rebounds in 23 foul-plagued minutes. Elvar Fridriksson had 10 points and five assists, while Anders Haas tallied 10 points and four boards.
The win marked Lincoln Memorial's 23rd straight by double figures, as the Railsplitters become the first team in South Atlantic Conference history to advance to the NCAA Division II Final Four.
The Railsplitters will face the winner of Stonehill and West Liberty in the national semifinals on Thursday at 7 p.m. back inside of Dr. Pepper Arena in Frisco, Texas. That game will be broadcast live on the CBS Sports Network.
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