HARTSVILLE, S.C. - The Cobra men's basketball team is heading to the Conference Carolinas Tournament Championship game for the first time ever in school history thanks to a 87-80 win over the #8 seed Belmont Abbey on Thursday night. The Cobras will have to face the #2 seed Limestone College on Saturday at Limestone at 7:00 p.m. in Gaffney, S.C.
Delonte Doles (Newport News, Va.) was the Cobras leading scorer with 22 points and seven assists, while Tom Wright (Sydney, Australia) had 18 points. Liam Kyle (Cleveland, Ohio) added 14 points and Ryan Aijian (Santa Barbara, Ca.) added 13, including nine from long range and Vatrick Thompson (Columbia, S.C.) had 10 points.
Belmont Abbey was led by Kyle Phillips with 27 points, 25 of which came in the second half, while Richard Barbee had 14 points and Terrone Sheffey had 12 points.
Coker used some stellar first half shooting to take a 49-33 lead at the break. The Cobras were 18-for-25 (72%) from the floor in the first half, but they had a bit of trouble from the charity stripe hitting just 56.3 percent (9-for-16). The Crusaders were percent from the free throw line, while they shot just 50 percent from the floor.
The second half was all about Belmont Abbey. The Crusaders outscored the Cobras 47-38 in the second half, including a 23-5 run to start the half and eventually tie the game at 60 with 9:40 left in the ballgame.
Coker immediately regained the lead on a three-pointer and would push the advantage to four, but Phillips scored nine of the game's next 13 points, the last on a layup with 5:40 to go, to put the Crusaders ahead for the first time at 71-70. Phillips extended the lead to three with a pair of free throws 61 seconds later to make the score 73-70.
Twenty-two seconds later, Coker's Wright dipped the lead to one with a short jumper, and he added a layup to move the Cobras back in front at the 3:21 mark. A free throw from Terrone Sheffey with 3:12 left deadlocked the game at 73.
With just under three minutes left, Kyle moved Coker ahead for good with a layup. Thompson added a three-pointer to widen the gap to five at 79-74 with 2:21 to go. The Abbey would not go away, as Barbee nailed two free throws at the 2:06 mark to cut the lead to 79-76.
An Abbey turnover gave Coker the ball back with 1:40 to go. With fouls to give, the Crusaders were whistled for three-straight fouls, the last of which sent Joselle Bracy (Ruby, S.C.) to the line with 38 ticks left. He sank both to move the lead to five.
Sheffey cut it to three with a jumper with 31 seconds left, but the Crusaders were forced to foul on the ensuing Coker possession. Doles hit the first and missed the second, but an Abbey foul allowed the Cobras to go back to the line. Bracy nailed two more free throws, pushing the lead to six at 84-78 with 25 seconds to play.
Phillips gave the Abbey life with a layup at the 17 second mark to cut the lead to four, but a three-point play from Doles with 12 seconds left sealed the 87-80 win.
Coker will take on the #2 seed Limestone on Saturday in the championship game. The Cobras split their season series with the Saints, losing at home 62-61 and winning in Gaffney, 76-53. Tip-off for the championship game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.