GREENVILLE, S.C. — The clock emphatically struck midnight on the Virginia-Wise men’s basketball team Sunday.
Catawba shellacked the Cavaliers 101-69 in the South Atlantic Conference Tournament championship game at Furman’s Timmons Arena.
The Cavaliers (19-12) — picked 12th in the 13-team league in the preseason poll — had no legs after playing their third game in four days and upsetting nationally ranked Lincoln Memorial in Saturday’s semifinals.
“It was a tough game for us and I thought they really got into our legs with their pressure,” UVA Wise coach Blake Mellinger said. “They really beat us up on the offensive glass, especially in the first half. We knew that was going to be a big key coming into the game and from start to finish, we really didn’t have anything for them.
“I give (the Indians) a lot of credit because they’re really good and they executed at a high level tonight.”
UVA Wise sophomore guard Bradley Dean, a former Gate City star, tied the overall tournament record for points, his 21-point effort Sunday giving him 84. Dean fell just short of tying the tourney record for field goals.
“I really wanted to win this one, but I wanted it more for Luke Lawson because he’s a great teammate and one of my best friends,” Dean said of the former Eastside standout.
“I give a lot of credit to my teammates for all that I’ve accomplished. They do all the work like set screens. God blessed me to go through the whole year healthy and I thank him for that.”
“That’s just who Brad is — he’s a winner,” Mellinger said. “I don’t know of any other way to classify it. He plays his best in the game’s biggest moments. I’m really proud of his growth, having improved so much between this year and last year.”
The Indians (23-7) claimed their ninth SAC tourney title and its automatic berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Catawba seized the momentum early, going on a 16-0 run midway through the first half as Wise missed eight consecutive shots. Catawba led by as many as 44 points with 7:05 left in the game.
Tournament MVP Javeon Jones led Catawba with 19 points, eight rebounds and a pair of assists. Dre Nelson posted a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds. DeAngelo Epps finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Indians, who shot 46.4% from the field (39-for-84) and made 12 of 26 shots from long range.
Lawson closed out his college career with 17 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
The Cavs struggled mightily against Catawba's length, getting outrebounded 57-35, and they shot 38.2% (26-for-68) from the floor.
The Indians had 29 second-chance points off 21 offensive rebounds. The Cavs only had nine offensive boards and six second-chance points.
Even though the squad fell short, Mellinger’s youthful group more than quadrupled its win total from last season.
“We won four games last year and to turn that into a 19-12 season the following year is a product of the guys doing everything we asked them to do and then some,” Mellinger said. “This is the most connected team I’ve ever been around. They’ve been such a joy to coach and that’s the biggest thing I can take away from it.”