Keenan Palmore, part of a new-look Lenoir-Rhyne men’s basketball program, led the Bears past Wingate 76-69 Sunday evening in an NCAA Division II regional semifinal.
Palmore, who transferred to Lenoir-Rhyne from Old Dominion in June, scored 20 second-half points and added 11 rebounds and three assists.
The Bears (21-9) advance to the Southeast Regional championship Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s second game, between No. 2-ranked Lincoln Memorial and 20th-ranked Queens. Reaching Division II’s Sweet 16 marks Lenoir-Rhyne’s deepest advance in NCAA men’s basketball.
Lenoir-Rhyne, 6-16 last season, improved to 21-9 under first-year coach Ryan Odom, who spent the five previous seasons as an assistant with the Charlotte 49ers. Odom was the 49ers’ interim head coach for part of the 2014-15 season.
“It wasn’t going well for either team offensively,” Odom said. “At some point, it was coming down to when someone would get it going. We had that one spurt midway in the second half, and that made the difference.”
There were 15 lead changes in the first half and the game was tied 35-35 with 17 minutes, 32 seconds left in the contest. That’s when the Bears got hot, outscoring the Bulldogs 13-6 over a five-minute stretch. Palmore scored eight straight points during that run.
Wingate (23-10) trailed 72-60 with one minute left but went on a late run, closing the gap to 74-69 with 20 seconds remaining. But the Bulldogs ran out of time.
3 who mattered
▪ Keenan Palmore (Lenoir-Rhyne): A senior from Stone Mountain, Ga., he scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, when the Bears pulled away.
▪ Keith Griffin (Wingate): A 6-foot-9 junior who played at Hickory Grove Christian in Charlotte, Griffin scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
▪ Rob Noyes (Lenoir-Rhyne): Noyes, a 6-7 senior from Morganton Freedom High, had foul troubles for much of the game but managed to score 12 points and grab eight rebounds.
▪ Lenoir-Rhyne did much of its second-half damage on the boards, outrebounding Wingate 21-11.
▪ Wingate’s Isiah Cureton, a junior guard from Waxhaw’s Cuthbertson High, played 42 minutes in Saturday’s overtime victory over Montevallo. He suffered leg cramps late in Sunday’s game.
<bullet>The first half was extremely tight. Neither team led by more than three points, and there were 15 lead changes.
<bullet>There is a heavy feel of the Charlotte 49ers on the Lenoir-Rhyne coaching staff. Odom was an assistant with the 49ers for five years, and two of his Bears’ assistants – Nate Dixon and Blake Simmons – were members of the 49ers’ staff.
<bullet>Sunday’s Southeast Regional semifinals were an all-South Atlantic Conference affair. Lincoln Memorial won the regular season and tournament titles and was followed in the standings by Queens, Wingate and Lenoir-Rhyne.
They said it
“The last time we reached a point like this was three years ago, and we had mostly seniors. This time, we have almost everyone coming back.” – Wingate coach Brian Good.