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Second Half Run Boosts Scots into USA South Semifinals

Bailey Spragg (Nina Grauley / Sports Information)
Bailey Spragg (Nina Grauley / Sports Information)

DEMOREST, Ga. -- They say beating a team three times in one season is a difficult task and the Covenant men's basketball team proved that to be true on Tuesday night. Bailey Spragg scored 23 points and the No. 3 West seeded Scots finally defeated Piedmont in an 83-67 victory in a USA South Tournament first round game at Cave Arena in Demorest.

Covenant (17-9) moves on to the semifinal round of the USA South Tournament and will face East No. 1 seed North Carolina Wesleyan on Friday in Maryville, Tenn., at 5 p.m. The win also marked a trip back to the semifinals for the first time since 2016, the year the Scots claimed the conference title, and the first road win in tournament play.

After falling twice to Piedmont during the regular season, including in a game played just three days ago in Demorest, the Scots were finally able to breakthrough. Spragg was all over the court once again as he tallied a game-high 23 points to go along with six rebounds and three steals. Berto Dryden had 16 points and three assists, while James Mitchell added 13 points and three assists. Caleb Haynes also registered double figures in the scoring column with 10 points and seven rebounds.

Will Crumly and Patjo Twagirayezu each had nine points, with Crumly grabbing eight rebounds.

Covenant led for nearly 35 minutes of the contest, but the Scots were only up 59-56 with 8:38 remaining after Piedmont had trimmed down a 10-point lead.

But the Scots put together a strong run, one that had been missing in the two previous encounters with the Lions, to put the contest out of reach. Covenant outscored Piedmont 13-2 over the next three-and-a-half minutes to build a 72-58 edge with 5:07 left. Crumly capped the stretch with layups on consecutive possessions to give the Scots their largest lead of the game to that point. During the run, Piedmont was held without a basket for almost five minutes.

Piedmont (15-11) would not be able to muster a comeback attempt as Covenant maintained a double-digit lead over the final minutes. The lead got as large as 18 on two occasions for the Scots.

Covenant, which was held to under 40 percent shooting in Saturday's loss at Piedmont, shot the ball well at 47.5 percent (29-of-61) from the field with 12 3-pointers and 13-of-16 at the free throw line. The Scots also turned the ball over just eight times.

The Scots were able to use that good shooting to build a first half lead. After trailing for much of the first eight minutes, Covenant gained an 18-17 lead after a Haynes basket with 11:27 remaining. That bucket ignited a 13-4 run, highlighted by a Spragg 3-pointer, to give the Scots a 29-21 lead with 5:59 left. Covenant went into halftime shooting over 51 percent and held a 41-34 lead.

Within the first three minutes of the second half, Covenant extended the lead to 10 before Piedmont sliced the margin to just three. The late run by Covenant seized momentum again in the Scots' favor and propelled the visitors to the win.

Piedmont was led by Justin Vallejo and Elijah Alston as both had 16 points on the night. The Lions connected on just 36.2 percent (25-of-69) from the floor, depsite holding a 46-36 rebounding edge.

UP NEXT

The Scots will take on North Carolina Wesleyan on Friday in Maryville, Tenn., in the USA South Tournament semifinals. Game time at Boydson Baird Gymnasium on the campus of Maryville College is set for 5 p.m.

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