03/08/10 — Theus' shot in final seconds lifts MOC to title

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Theus' shot in final seconds lifts MOC to title

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 8, 2010 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Lamonte Theus put Mount Olive back where it belongs -- in the NCAA tournament.

The JUCO transfer buried the game-winning jumper with 8.1 seconds left, and sealed the Trojans' 83-80 victory over Anderson (S.C.) in the Conference Carolinas men's basketball tournament championship game Sunday afternoon.

Mount Olive (25-5 overall) seized its first-ever automatic bid to the Division II Southeast Regional, and sixth postseason trip overall in program history. The Trojans made five consecutive appearances in the East Regional from 2004-08, but missed the playoffs a year ago.

"Anderson is a very good ballclub ... tough to guard," said MOC head coach Joey Higginbotham. "We got down six in the second half and I thought our guys played with a little urgency ... the first time in the game we did that.

"I knew it was going to be a good ballgame all the way."

It was.

Taylor Shugart's conventional three-point play gave Anderson its biggest lead of the second half, 72-67, with 5:21 to go in regulation.

The top-seeded Trojans answered with a 13-2 run. Three free throws from Craig Hayes and Mohammed Ibrahim's offensive putback forged a 72-72 tie at the 3:51 mark.

Theus' layup off Mike Holloman's assist kept the run intact. Hayes, tournament MVP Kendrick Easley and all-tournament pick Derek Staton hit key shots to put MOC up 80-74 with 51 seconds to go and send the MOC fans into a frenzy.

Anderson, the No. 3 seed, didn't go away.

Trey Britton completed a three-point play after getting fouled on a dunk. A Trojan turnover led to Tony Anderson's three-point play, which created an 80-80 deadlock with 21.1 seconds on the clock.

In the timeout, Higginbotham told Theus it was "his time."

Theus expected the Anderson defense to shadow Easley and when the lane opened, the junior guard drove toward the right side of the basket. His shot rattled around the rim and dropped in as the whistle blew.

"I thought he (the ref) would call a charge," said Theus.

The ref signaled a blocking foul and Theus easily converted his only free throw of the game. Anderson's final shot, defended by Theus, was off the mark and MOC celebrated its second tournament title in the past three years.

"I just had to keep a hand out, no fouls and make the shot hard for him," said Theus. "I knew I had to make a play because I had been quiet the whole second half."

Theus finished with seven points and seven assists, and earned a spot on the all-tournament team. Easley, who nailed his first six 3-pointers, led all scorers with 27 points. Craig Hayes knocked down 21 points and Mike Holloman added nine points.

"He made a big-time play tonight," said Higginbotham of Theus.

The last-second heroics denied Anderson the title in its final season as a Conference Carolinas member. The visiting Trojans will join the South Atlantic Conference this fall.

"We wanted to make sure Easley didn't touch it and make someone else beat us," said Anderson coach Jason Taylor. "It looked from my perspective that my kid was outside the lane just standing there. I usually wait to judge officiating by watching the tape, but I thought my guy made a good defensive play.

"(On the last play), we put the ball in the hands of our best player (Brandon Young) and let him see if he could make the play, which he has several times in his career. It just didn't go in this time."

Young, who scored 13 points, grabbed a spot on the all-tournament team along with Kevis Cornwell (23 points). Anderson suffered its 16th loss against MOC in 22 meetings since 2000.

The teams battled through 14 lead changes and 12 ties in the back-and-forth, nail-biting affair. Neither team held more than a two-possession advantage in their first-ever postseason meeting.

MOC avenged its only setback in regular-season conference play and logged a perfect 15-0 record at Kornegay Arena this season.

"There was a lot of energy and it was definitely a good game," said Easley. "Both teams were playing hard out there. It came down to knuckling up and getting defensive stops. Luckily, we got the one stop when it counted."

And the big shot from Theus.