LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- For a second time in three seasons, the Covenant men's basketball team won 18 games and set a program mark for winning percentage. The Scots, under first-year head coach Neal Young, finished the 2017-18 campaign with an 18-10 overall record and advanced to the USA South Tournament championship game.
Covenant had to get back to the USA South Tournament final the hard way. The Scots were the No. 3 seed from the West Division after going 10-6 in league play during the regular season. Covenant won at Piedmont in the quarterfinal round and then used a last-second tip-in from Caleb Haynes to defeat North Carolina Wesleyan in the semifinals. Ultimately, Covenant fell in the title game to top seed, and host, Maryville.
One of the highlights of the season was an eight-game winning streak, the longest in the NCAA era and the longest streak on record in program history. The streak began on Jan. 27 and included wins over Maryville (Jan. 31) and at Methodist (Feb. 2). Covenant finished the year winning 10 of its final 12 games. The Scots also lost just one home game, recording a 9-1 mark inside Barnes PE Center.
The 18 wins set a program record for most wins by a first-year head coach, and Covenant logged a record-tying .643 winning percentage for a second time in three seasons. It was also the third straight winning season for the Scots, the most consecutive winning years since the program had four from 1983-87.
GAME OF THE YEAR:
Many notable games occurred in 2017-18. Covenant went 9-1 at home, with big wins over an undefeated Pfeiffer team on Jan. 20, a crucial USA South victory over Maryville on Jan. 31, and a victory over LaGrange on Nov. 30. The Scots also had a road win at Methodist and a final-second victory at Berea on Feb. 7.
The most impactful game of the year came in the USA South Tournament semifinals against North Carolina Wesleyan. A wild final minutes of play saw the game go back-and-forth with a berth in the USA South Tournament championship game on the line. However, it was Caleb Haynes' putback with 0.3 seconds gave the Scots an 81-80 victory.
Haynes' putback capped the series of events in the final minutes of the contest. Covenant led 72-67 with four minutes remaining, but an 11-2 run by N.C. Wesleyan gave the No. 1 East seeded Battling Bishops a 78-74 lead with 1:58 to go. Patjo Twagirayezu made a 3-pointer after a Scots timeout, and Bailey Spragg followed with a steal and layup to give Covenant a 79-78 lead with 1:04 left.
After each team produced empty possessions, N.C. Wesleyan's Chris Braswell made a short jumper with eight seconds left. Berto Dryden pushed the ball up the floor and found Haynes in the paint. However, Haynes missed his first attempt, but followed his shot and made the putback as time expired.
The referees added 0.3 seconds back on the clock, giving N.C. Wesleyan one last chance. The Bishops threw the ball the length of the floor, but Twagirayezu was there to intercept the pass as the buzzer sounded.
IN THE RANKS:
Covenant had a major presence near the top of a few statistical categories in Division III.
- James Mitchell made 121 3-pointers and that led the USA South and was tied for first in the country with Wheaton's Aston Francis. Mitchell was third in the nation with 4.32 3-pointers made per game.
- Caleb Haynes was near the top in the nation in field goal percentage for much of the year and finished second at 71.2 percent. At one point during the season, Haynes made 17 consecutive field goals, just seven shy of the Division III record for a season.
- Bailey Spragg was a stat-stuffing machine all year long. The junior was fourth in the country in steals (87) and fourth in steals per game (3.22), while also being second in the USA South in assists per game (4.9). Spragg tallied 10 assists in a game three times this year.
Check out highlights of Covenant's electrifying 105-101 victory over Pfeiffer on Jan. 20.
Caleb Haynes - second team
USA South All-Sportsmanship
USA South Player of the Week
Patjo Twagirayezu (Dec. 4)
USA South Rookie of the Week
Will Crumly - 3 times (Dec. 4, Jan. 8, Feb. 19)
USA South Team Sportsmanship Award
Team (3rd straight year)
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