CHARLOTTE – For those who gamble on college basketball, Campbell University probably didn’t draw a lot of action before taking the floor for Wednesday’s first-round game against Presbyterian. A certain gambling site that sports a crown as part of its logo listed Campbell as +1300 to win the Big South championship after the Camels took down Presbyterian.
It may be time for the sickos to rethink their strategy a bit.
First, it was 10th-seeded Presbyterian. Then, second-seeded Longwood. Saturday, the third-seeded Radford Highlanders fell. Now, just 40 minutes – oh, and the top-seeded Asheville Bulldogs – separate the Camels from a Big South title in the final game they play as a member of the league.
Anthony Dell’Orso put home a loose ball with one second remaining, providing a dramatic finish to a back-and-forth battle. The shot put Campbell into its third Big South championship game in seven seasons, as the Camels secured a 72-71 result over Radford in Saturday’s second semifinal.
“That was an exciting one,” Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan commented – seemingly out of at least partial relief – after the game. “I’m just proud of the team. I thought they played really well. It never felt like it was getting away and it never felt like we were gonna be able to put it away, so I guess it’s fitting that it ended like it did. That was a tough, tough shot. Big-time shot.”
Dell’Orso showed the same composure when recapping the play after the game that he displayed when knocking down the game-winner.
“We knew we were down one coming out of the timeout,” Dell’Orso said. “We had a play designed to get it to (Ricky Clemons) to get him to go to the basket, because no one can stop him. I had the ball and I saw he was denied, so I started to think we had to start moving, because the clock was against us. I just went to the rim, guys cut me off, Ricky got open, and I just kept following the ball and kept fighting like we all do. It fell into my hands and I just let it fly.”
That same level of calm and confidence radiated throughout the Camel team Saturday, as it has for each of the team’s three wins here in Charlotte. Clemons spoke of the team’s resolve as it prepares to play for a title.
“We knew that regardless of the seed, we could play with anybody in this conference,” Clemons said. “We’re showing that now. We’ve got another opportunity to do it again tomorrow.”
Radford (19-14) led the Camels by seven at the half and led by as many as nine in the opening 20. The Highlanders shot 41.7 percent (15-for-36) in the period, but secured a staggering 15 of their 21 misses. Radford also knocked down 53.3 percent (8-for-15) from distance.
The third-seeded Highlanders shot at a better clip in the second half, but managed to attempt just 18 shots while doing so. The Camels were able to better utilize their personnel in the period, as Clemons and Jay Pal – who both had two fouls early in the first – stayed on the floor for significant stretches over the final half.
“We had to play a little more junk stuff like zones and stuff in the first half because of our foul situation,” McGeehan said. “I think we had more hats on hats. We had man on man more in that second half.”
“Credit to Campbell. They played a really good game. They made one more play than we did,” Radford acting head coach Shane Nichols said after the game. “I just wanna praise our guys for this year. What gets lost is that when you’ve got a team, there’s always a guy or two that rocks the boat. They might be not as coachable as the rest. With this team, I’ve gotta be honest. We had nobody like that. Our team was great, coachable, and fun to be around. We enjoyed coming to practice every day and being with this team. We had no egos. Everybody cared about each other. That’s hard to do in college basketball – or on any team.”
Radford guard DaQuan Smith lit up the Camels for 19 points in the first half on 6-of-9 shooting (5-of-6 from distance). Campbell limited the sharpshooter to just three points in the second half, however, as Smith was able to take just two shots in the period.
“I just try to do what the team needs,” Smith said. “In the first half, they needed me to score and to bring some firepower. I tried to do that. I’m not just worried about myself. I’ve got great teammates. I know they can score, too. I was just trying to take great shots and let the game come to me.”
Campbell (16-17) now sets its sights on Asheville in a game set to tip at 1:00 (Eastern) on ESPN2.
“I’ve got about 20-some hours to come up with the exact game plan, but I feel like just right off the top, Drew Pember and Tajion Jones are two of the better players the league has probably ever had, quite honestly,” McGeehan said. “Statistically, that would show. It kind of starts with them, but one thing that I’d say about them is that their complementary guys have been awesome. (Guard Fletcher) Abee, (guard Caleb) Burgess, and McMullen – those guys have been awesome complementary guys to those two what I would consider stars on their team. It’s not like you can just zero in on Drew Pember and say that’s gonna solve the problem.
“We’ll have a plan. Don’t worry.”
Dell’Orso got the Camels over the hump with his 23-point effort, hitting 7-of-16 from the floor and 3-of-5 from distance. Clemons poured in 13, hitting all five of his tries from the field. Jay Pal added 10 and grabbed four boards. Campbell shot 55.1 percent (27-for-49) from the field and hit 7-of-17 (41.2 percent) on the day.
Smith’s 22 guided the Highlanders. Bryan Antoine added 13, hitting 5-of-9 and 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Radford shot 44.4 percent (24-for-54), hitting 11-of-20 (55 percent) from three and 12-of-16 (75 percent) from the line.