First half surge, clutch shooting lift Scots to 20th win, USA South finals

First half surge, clutch shooting lift Scots to 20th win, USA South finals

In Head Coach Randy Lambert's final season, the storied coach will have an opportunity to earn his 12th conference championship, as the Scots advanced to the USA South finals with a 77-68 win over Averett University on Friday night.

The Scots used a late first-half rally and clutch shooting in the second half in order to advance. MC will look to defend their 2018 title, as they play the winner of Covenant College and Methodist University tomorrow, Feb. 23, at 3:00 p.m. in Lookout Mountain, Ga.

"It's very special," Lambert said of advancing to the championship. "I'm really proud of this team. To think that we reached 20 wins is amazing. I think it shows that our seniors had the foresight to stay in there and hang in there with the coaching. If I figure this correctly, this is their third-consecutive 20-win season. That's quite a testament to what they've meant to this program."

Friday's victory also secures Lambert's 20th 20-plus win season in his 39-year career at the helm of the Scots.

In a back-and-forth first half that saw 13 lead changes and seven ties, Averett would take the lead on a key 3-pointer from Bryson Davis to give the Cougars a 26-24 lead at the 4:40 mark.

However, a Calvin Songster trey just nine seconds later would answer, sending the Scots on a blistering run to end the first half with a double-digit lead.

MC finished the final 4:30 on a 19-2 run that saw Emanuelle Garcia bucket nine of his 12 first-half with a trio of 3-pointers. Maryville made five treys in the rally, including a Songster rim-rattling, buzzer-beating 3-pointer from the left wing for a 43-28 halftime lead.

"We really struggled adjusting to their physicality early in the game," Lambert said. "I though as the first half progressed, we just started cutting more and finding the open man. It really wasn't any major adjustment. It all just boiled down to knocking down a couple open shots and getting the momentum."

Garcia ended the first half with a dozen points, as the senior went 4-of-4 from long range. Songster added 10 points with a pair of treys to his credit, while Nick Clifton added a team-leading four rebounds.

MC shot 15-of-26 (57.7 percent) from the floor in the opening half, as they bucketed seven treys at a 58.3 percent rate.

The Scots held the Cougars to a 9-of-27 first half – a 33.3 percent effort – while allowing just a single 3-pointer. MC took advantage of 10 Averett turnovers for 16 points.

Maryville built their 15-point halftime lead to as many as 20 in the second half, before Averett's Vince Contreras and Timothy Henry would find their stride.

The duo would lead the Cougars on a 14-2 rally, cutting MC's lead to just six with 9:00 left in the game. MC would find clutch shooting down the stretch, however, pulling away each time Averett came close.

Songster knocked down a 3-pointer from Kaleb Estes at the 8:39 mark, ending the Cougars' rally.

Again, Averett cut the lead to five at the 4:54 mark – a shot that was promptly followed by a Dante Hoppa trey from Emier Bowman to give the Scots cushion just 27 second later.

With 2:06 left – same story.

Henry flipped in a driving lay-up to cut MC's advantage to just four points, 72-68, late in the contest. Again, Hoppa came through just 25 seconds later, bucketing another trey from Estes. That would prove the dagger, as Songster bucketed a pair of free throws for the 77-68 win.

"When the game gets close, we obviously want to go to our two scorers," Lambert said. "There's a good chance that Hoppa and Calvin are going to knock down open looks. We did a good job of finding them. I thought Kaleb Estes did a real good job with keeping us in our offense, despite Averett's pressure."

Maryville College (20-7) was led by Songster's 17 points – 10 of those coming in the first half. He had three treys, three rebounds, three assists and a steal in the game, while Bowman added 15 points. Garcia had a dozen points – each coming in the first half – while Hoppa finished the game with 19 points.

Estes had eight points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals, while Joshua Brooks added six points. Nick Clifton had five points, as he and Hoppa led the squad with four rebounds each. J.R. Sanders had three points and four assists, and Trevor Gaines-Perry added two points for the Scots.

MC shot 56 percent (28-of-50) from the floor on the day, as they basketed 11 treys at a 52.4 percent clip. Friday's win makes four out of the last five games the Scots have made 10 treys or more.

Averett University (9-18) went 25-of-55 (45.5 percent) from the floor on the night, as they managed four 3-pointers.

Contreras led all scorers off the bench with 22 points, three rebounds and two assists. Henry added 20 points of his own, as he led all rebounders with eight boards.