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NCWC basketball upset in USA South tournament opener

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N.C. Wesleyan’s Chris Braswell, left, drives past Averett University’s Montre’ Cash Tuesday during the first round of the USA South Tournament at Everett Gymnasium at Wesleyan.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Ahead for most of Tuesday night but never fully in control, the N.C. Wesleyan men’s basketball team built leads against Averett of seven points in the first half and eight with six minutes left, only to allow the Cougars back in the game each time.

Indeed, the Bishops, playing at home, were never able to close out a close game, and Nash Central grad Montre’ Cash hit a deep 3-pointer with 1:19 left to give Averett back a one-point lead. The Cougars wouldn’t let go of it from there, and eventually held on for an 82-78 upset victory in the first round of the USA-South tournament.

After a basket by Wesleyan’s Chris Braswell gave the Bishops a 72-64 lead with 5:34 left, the Cougars outscored their opponent 18-6 over the remainder of the game.

“I always love coming back to play basketball in Rocky Mount,” said Cash, a sophomore who played for Renny Taylor and the Bulldogs before heading to Averett. “I struggled from the floor today bad, bad, bad. But my coaches, my teammates believed in me all game.”

That belief showed in that go-ahead shot, which Cash launched from several feet behind the 3-point line, turning a two-point lead into a one-point deficit for NCWC.

“It went in. It felt great,” said Cash, who was 0-for-7 from deep before making the most important one. “As the great Reggie Miller said, the only way to get out of a great slump is to keep shooting.”

The Bishops (19-7, 12-6) entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed, having finished conference play with a 12-5 record. Averett (9-17, 9-9) entered the No. 4 seed with only eight wins, though all of those came in conference play, including a home victory over Wesleyan on Feb. 6.

With the victory, the Cougars move on to the second round of the tournament on Saturday, while the season comes to an end for NCWC.

Cash, who finished 7 of 19 from the floor with 17 points for the Cougars, including that go-ahead 3-pointer and two free throws at the end to seal it, entered the game averaging 10.7 points.

Northern Nash grad Raymond Bullock, also a sophomore for Averett, finished with 12 points and five rebounds, including an emphatic dunk in traffic in the first half. He averaged 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds before Tuesday night.

In the loss, the Bishops were led by Braswell’s 26 and A.J. Frye’s 18.

“I’m mostly disappointed for our seniors. I thought they deserved better,” said NCWC coach John Thompson, whose roster has six seniors, including Braswell and second-leading scorer Robert Wilson, who finished Tuesday night with four points.

The upset ends a successful season for the Bishops, perhaps prematurely, after a 19-6 regular season and the top overall record in the USA-South East Division. It was also a breakout year for Frye, a junior, who finished the season with averages of 18 points and eight rebounds on 61 percent shooting.

“It’s been a great year,” Thompson said. “With a little time to reflect we’ll recognize how special a year it was.”

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