By Kevin Sweeney
We knew coming into tonight’s matchup between UNC-Asheville and Winthrop would have first place on the line.
What we didn’t know was that we’d witness a changing of the guard for star of the Big South.
Winthrop senior guard Keon Johnson, nearing 2,000 career points, was dominant down the stretch and in both overtimes, but UNC-Asheville freshman MaCio Teague matched him play-for-play in the closing moments to help seal a 104-101 victory in double overtime for the Bulldogs.
Johnson came into the game with some demons to overcome, having scored just 10 points on 2-27 from the field in his last two meetings the Bulldogs. That all changed tonight though, as Johnson poured in 40 points. That makes 79 points in the last 2 games for Johnson, who posted 39 points Saturday against Campbell.
However, Teague played with maturity beyond his years and a fearless mindset throughout. With the Bulldogs down by 3 with 5.5 seconds to go in regulation, Teague dribbled down the floor and drained a 30-footer to tie the game as time expired. Then, in the second overtime period, Teague finished through contact and made the subsequent free throw to give UNCA the lead with just 23 seconds to play. At the other end, he blocked a fallaway three by Johnson with the clock running down. Raekwon Miller grabbed the rebound and was fouled with a second to play, and Kimmel Arena erupted. The Bulldogs were now in the drivers seat to win the Big South regular season title!
Early on, things just didn’t seem to be going UNC-Asheville’s way. Despite seemingly outplaying the Eagles, they trailed by 1 at the half due to the outstanding play of Winthrop senior forward Xavier Cooks. Cooks had 13 points, having his way offensively when guarded by the shorter Ahmad Thomas.
Winthrop maintained their lead for much of the second half, though the teams were separated by one possession for much of the second half. With four minutes to play, the Eagles led by 6 and the Bulldogs were most definitely on the ropes. But the Bulldogs responded with a 9-0 run to take the lead with 1:39 to play. Johnson brought the Eagles back, with a layup and then a high-arcing three with 24 seconds to play. The Bulldogs’ David Robertson was fouled Cooks shooting a 3 with 8 seconds to play, fouling Cooks out of the game. Robertson made the first 2 free throws, but after a timeout by Winthrop, he missed the third to leave the Bulldogs down 75-74. After a pair of free throws by Johnson, Teague made his buzzer-beating three to send the game to overtime.
Johnson’s 40 points was a career-high for the Eagles, and Cooks posted 20. Twin brothers Bjorn and Anders Broman had 12 and 10 points respectively.
After just 2 first-half points, Thomas had 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs, while Teague posted 24. Will Weeks had a double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
UNC-Asheville (19-7, 11-2) returns to action Saturday at Longwood as they look to extend their winning streak to 8 games. Winthrop (18-6, 9-3) will try to rebound Saturday versus Gardner-Webb.