N.C. Wesleyan’s men’s basketball team won its opening game of the USA South Conference Tournament, dropping Methodist, 70-62, on Thursday at the Crown Center Arena in Fayetteville.
The fourth-seeded Battling Bishops trailed for 37 total seconds against the No. 5 seed Monarchs, using steady trips to the free-throw line to advance to the semifinals.
“We never slammed the door shut on them, that’s for sure,” N.C. Wesleyan coach John Thompson said. “We did play really hard, and I was proud of that. We defended really well and competed.”
Senior forward Brandon Givens had games highs in both points (27) and rebounds (11) for the Bishops (16-10). Givens attempted as many free throws (12) as the Monarchs did total.
Givens scored exactly at his average for the season.
“It’s pretty amazing when you can get 27 and 11 and get no reaction,” Thompson said. “Fortunately or unfortunately, what is an average performance for Brandon is way better than average for almost anyone else.”
The Monarchs (9-15) took two leads – one midway through the first half and another early in the second half – but the Bishops took back the lead on the following possession both times.
Methodist cut the lead to one with 4:55 remaining in regulation but couldn’t surpass N.C. Wesleyan.
The Bishops made seven of 10 attempts from the free throw line in the final minute to keep Methodist from manufacturing an upset.
Further, the Bishops committed only 12 fouls and kept Methodist from making up ground at the free throw line.
“I thought that was really indicative of how we played,” Thompson said. “Defending without fouling for as aggressively as I ask them to play is difficult. Playing that way and not fouling – it’s a tough line they have.”
Cornelius Snow scored 11 points for N.C. Wesleyan, while Josh Morrison and Eric Dortch-Jones both scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds.
Bryan Hockaday scored 17 points to pace the Monarchs, who finished the season by losing seven of their last nine games.
N.C. Wesleyan will play first-seeded Christopher Newport at 7 tonight.
The Captains beat No. 8 seed Averett, 74-58, on Thursday.
The Bishops and the Captains split their two regular season meetings. N.C. Wesleyan won, 102-99, in double overtime in January, while CNU won, 93-67, last week.
Thompson said the two meetings have taught the Bishops how they must compete to beat the favorite to win the USA South’s NCAA Tournament bid for the second time in three seasons.
“We were very disappointed in ourselves after that second game (against Christopher Newport),” Thompson said. “We didn’t compete at the same level we have for the majority of the season, and if we play like that again, we have no chance. Conversely, we know if we play as well as we did in the first game for stretches, we can win.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com