Camels roll into Big South final

by | Mar 5, 2021 | Campbell, News & Features

Ricky Clemons (with ball) scored a career high 19 points at Radford.
(Photo/Jon Huff)

RADFORD, VA – Ricky Clemons scored a career-high 19 points to lead Campbell to a 78-60 win over Radford on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Big South Conference tournament at the Dedmon Center.

Third-seeded Campbell (17-9) will travel to top seed Winthrop (22-1), which eliminated fifth seed Longwood, 82-61, for Sunday’s 12 noon title game on ESPN.

Joshua Lusane added 14 points, 8 rebounds and five assists, while Jordan Whitfield (11) and Cedric Henderson, Jr. (10) also reached double figures for the Camels, who extended their school Division I era (since ’77-78) win streak to nine games.

Fah’Mir Ali led second-seeded Radford (15-12) with 19 points, but only three in the second half, while Bryan Hart came off the bench to add 16 for the Highlanders, who trailed for the last 36:04 of play.

“I’m super happy for my team,” said Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan. “It’s been a real effort by everybody. My staff has been incredible, and the guys have completely bought into what we’re doing. Every single person on that bench is locked in ready to do whatever he can to help us win. As a coach, you can’t ask for more than that.”

Campbell led by 12 at the break (37-25) and extended the margin to 48-29 on Clemons’ drive to the bucket with 14:48 remaining. After Radford scored eight unanswered points to cut the game to 48-37 on Hart’s 3-point play with 13:29 to play, the Camels responded with a 9-0 run and led by as many as 24 down the stretch.

After holding Radford to 40 percent shooting Thursday, the Camels, who won the Big South regular season title in 2019, will make their first trip to the league tournament final since 2017.

“Our guys are totally focused,” said McGeehan, of his squad that was picked 10th in the preseason coaches and media poll, but finished third in the standings with an 11-6 league mark. “We didn’t play a perfect game tonight, but we were tough. Good things happen when everybody’s locked in.”

Campbell hasn’t lost since consecutive 6-point setbacks to the Highlanders Jan. 19-20 at Buies Creek.

“We had a little fire in our belly from when we played them earlier in two tough games,” said McGeehan. “This is a team that annihilated us on the boards — plus 40-some over two games — and we won it tonight.”

Campbell finished with a 28-23 edge on the glass and shot 58.8 percent overall against the league’s best scoring (64.1) and field goal percentage (.412) defense. In addition, CU outscored the Highlanders 34-18 in the paint, while knocking down 7-of-14 threes and 11-of-13 from the line.

A former walk-on from Knightdale, Clemons eclipsed his previous career high of 14 points on a bucket with 7:29 to play that put the Camels ahead 63-40. He finished 8-of-10 from the floor, 3-of-5 from the line, drew seven fouls, while grabbing four rebounds and dealing out three assists with only one turnover in 36 minutes.

“Ricky’s becoming more and more a part of our identity and why we’ve been successful,” said McGeehan. “He’s the best defensive player in this league; he’s tough as nails, and I’m glad we’ve got him.”

Lusane, who averaged nearly 10 points and 7 rebounds, while shooting 57 percent from the floor and 64 percent beyond arc over the last 11 games, turned in another all-around performance. The sophomore center-forward made all five of his field goals, including a pair of threes, and added two blocks in 27 minutes.

Austin McCullough chipped in nine points — all in the first half — while Messiah Thompson came off the bench to added eight.

“We’re so excited about getting this opportunity to play for another championship,” said McGeehan. “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing, play as hard as we possibly can, believe in each other and let the chips fall where they may.”

Campbell, which entered the contest ranked 15th nationally in field goal percentage, shot 55.6 percent (15-27) from the floor to take a 37-25 lead at halftime. McCullough scored nine first-half points, while Lusane added eight, plus five rebounds and five assists.

Thompson’s deep 3-pointer capped a 12-0 run as the Camels grabbed an 18-7 lead with 11:26 left in the opening period. CU led by as many as 13 (35-22) when Lusane hit a triple with 2:31 remaining.

Radford shot just 36.8 percent (7-19) in the opening period. Ali, a Big South all-freshman team member, scored 16 first-half points, including 4-of-4 threes, to keep the Highlanders close.

(Campbell media services provided the basis for this report)


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