DANVILLE, Va. -- An 11-0 run by top-seeded Averett late in the second half propelled the host Cougars to an 82-66 victory over the Covenant men's basketball team in the first round of the USA South Tournament on Thursday night at the Grant Center.
Covenant, the No. 8 seed in the tournament, finishes the year with a 14-12 overall record. Even with the loss, the winning record marks the second consecutive winning season for the Scots. Averett (12-14) moves on to face No. 5 seed LaGrange in the semifinal round on Friday at 7 p.m.
It was the second time in three years that the two teams have matched up in the tournament with the same seeds and Thursday's contest was eerily similar to the one played in 2015. Covenant started strong in the first half before Averett went on a run to end the period and then the Cougars controlled the second half en route to the victory.
The teams traded leads throughout the first 8-plus minutes of the first half. Patjo Twagirayezu hit two big 3-pointers in the opening minutes and a Will Portlock fastbreak dunk gave Covenant a 17-16 lead with 11:38 left in the first. The Scots went on a 7-0 run over the next few minutes, capped by a Ben Phelps jumper, to grab a 26-20 edge with over nine minutes left in the half.
After Covenant took its largest lead of the game at 32-25 on a pair of William Bryan free throws, Averett responded with five straight to cut the Scots' lead to 32-30 with 5:26 left. Covenant regained a six-point lead at 43-37 on a Phelps triple followed by a Berto Dryden layup with under two minutes to play. But Averett scored the final seven points of the half to grab a 44-43 lead entering halftime.
Both teams shot lights out in the opening period as Covenant connected on 54.8 percent, while Averett made 68.2 percent.
Shooting cooled off in the second half for both squads, but Averett never trailed in the final 20 minutes of action. Two Twagirayezu free throws with 13:49 left tied the score at 49, but the Cougars went on an 8-2 run over the next four minutes to take a 57-51 lead.
Covenant kept the score within one or two possessions until the final five minutes. Averett rattled off a 15-2 scoring spurt, including 11 straight, over a span of 2-plus minutes to go ahead by double digits and seal the first round win.
Twagirayezu led the Scots with 15 points and four rebounds. Seniors Z Arima, Portlock and Phelps all had 10 points apiece in their final collegiate games. Arima also collected five rebounds and four assists. Caleb Haynes added eight points. Covenant finished shooting 44.1 percent (26-of-59) from the field.
USA South Player of the Year Charles Bryant had a game-high 30 points to go along with eight rebounds for Averett. James Contreras had 16 points, while Darin Ketner hit three 3-pointers and finished with 13 points. TJ McAllister added 11 points. Averett made 54.5 percent (24-of-44) from the floor and hit 29-of-30 at the free throw line.
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