Campbell perseveres, pushes past Presbyterian in Big South tournament
CHARLOTTE -- There are three words that ring true every March -- survive and advance.
As the first day of that magical month ticked down its minutes, two teams fought to do just that. Seventh-seeded Campbell is playing in its final Big South tournament, preparing to depart for the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) . 10th-seeded Presbyterian, on the other hand, came into the first-round contest having lost 17 in a row and seven games by three or fewer possessions.
Much as it has all year, Presbyterian found itself late in the game having a chance to tie or win. As has also been the case in many of those games, the Blue Hose also saw that chance slip from their grasp.
Presbyterian recovered an errant Campbell pass, setting itself up for a shot to tie or win. The Blue Hose committed their own turnover, however -- but still had a chance to tie. Crosby James' three-point try looked online, but harmlessly bounced off and into the hands of the Camels. Campbell then knocked down two free throws and salted away a 68-63 victory at Bojangles' Coliseum Wednesday night.
"Anytime you're playing in March, you're just hoping to advance. You're just hoping to play another day," Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan said after the game. "Every single opportunity that you get to play could be your last. I'm just pleased to come out with a win.
"There were a few times that it felt like we might be able to stretch the lead a little bit. Each time, something happened -- whether it was a missed defensive assignment, or we just had a great opportunity on offense and missed a layup, or got fouled and it wasn't called -- whatever it was. It just never felt like we got that moment where we were gonna stretch it and they just kept playing. Presbyterian just kept playing and they hit shots."
To McGeehan's point, there was a lingering tension in the air for the entirety of the game. Campbell (14-17) stretched its lead to nine points on three separate occasions early in the second half, seemingly poised to strike and push the advantage to double digits. Presbyterian (5-27) refused to cooperate, though, breaking off a 16-6 burst capped by a James triple that afforded the Blue Hose a 47-46 lead.
The lead changed hands several times over the next few minutes, finally settling into the Camels' side of the ledger on the strength of four-straight Jay Pal free throws. The most compelling tension of all happened within the final 24 seconds, however.
Gediminas Mockseckas hit 1-of-2 from the line, swelling the Campbell lead to five. James squared up on the other end and splashed home a three to cut the lead to two. Campbell then turned the ball over to Presbyterian on an errant pass, followed by a Blue Hose timeout to set up a potential game-winner. Presbyterian then turned the ball over itself, though, and a painful season for the Blue Hose presented its unkindest cut yet.
"Obviously, I'm extremely proud of my guys. The fight that my guys have shown all season all season long -- I couldn't be more proud of them. Tonight, we just came up a little bit short," Presbyterian coach Quinton Ferrell said after the game. "In the second half, I thought we did a better job of executing and a few more shots went down. I thought down the stretch, we missed a couple free throws and had some costly turnovers late."
James recapped the shot that appeared as if it may tie the game.
"I thought it was going in. It was designed to get me open and to get a great look," James said. "I've just gotta make it."
Despite the season record, Ferrell expressed his pride regarding his team.
"This group -- the fight that everybody talks about, the competitive spirit -- that's all (senior forward) Owen (McCormack) ," Ferrell said. "To me, that'll be the greatest part of his legacy, in terms of the basketball program when we eventually get over the hump -- and I know that day is definitely coming.
"There have been situations that have created adversity not within our guys' control," Ferrell continued. "That's part of college athletics. You can't cry about it. You've gotta keep rolling up your sleeves, coming to work every day, being good people, working hard and just attacking the day."
Four Campbell scorers finished in double figures. Pal paced the Camels with 19, including an 8-for-10 performance at the free throw line. Freshman of the Year Anthony Dell'Orso hit 4-of-10 shots from the field and all six free throws, finishing with 15. Ricky Clemons added 13 on 5-for-7 from the field. Clemons was forced to leave late in the game due to a cut on his forehead, though no update was available on his status after the game. Laurynas Vaistaras put home 11, adding five boards.
Campbell shot 44.7 percent (21-for-47) from the deck, including a 4-for-13 performance from distance. The Camels hit 22-of-30 tries from the line.
James led all Presbyterian scorers with 15 points, knocking down 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-6 from the field. McCormack and Jalen Forrest contributed 11 apiece. The Blue Hose shot 45.1 percent (23-for-51) on the night, including 10-for-22 from beyond the arc. Presbyterian hit just 7-of-17 free throws, however, good for a 41.2 percent night.
Campbell advances to Friday's quarterfinals, where the Camels will square off with defending Big South champion and second-seeded Longwood. The game is set for a 6:00 (Eastern) start, with streaming via ESPN+.