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March 8, 2008
ASHEVILLE, N.C. ? New coach, same result for Winthrop. Another NCAA tournament trip for the dangerous midmajor program.
Michael Jenkins tied a Big South championship game record with 33 points and Winthrop overcame mammoth 7-foot-7 Kenny George's dominance inside to beat UNC Asheville 66-48 Saturday for its fourth straight league title.
Jenkins hit 6 of 9 3-pointers and keyed two second-half spurts that put it away for the Eagles (22-11), whose eighth NCAA tournament berth in 10 years was likely their most difficult to attain.
Playing on UNC Asheville's home floor and with Randy Peele in his first season as coach, Winthrop rode its senior class.
George had 13 points, but only four rebounds for the Bulldogs (23-9), whose senior backcourt struggled. UNC Asheville, which set a school record for victories will have to settle for an NIT appearance.
Winthrop has been the dominant force in this league, and the last NCAA tournament trip included a first-round upset of Notre Dame, enough for coach Gregg Marshall to leave for a lucrative deal at Wichita State.
Peele, Marshall's top assistant, took over the top job and quickly dealt with tragedy when backup point guard DeAndre Adams was killed in a car accident in May.
The Eagles finished tied with UNC Asheville for the Big South regular-season title, but the Bulldogs' season sweep earned them home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament.
Jenkins silenced the crowd when he hit three 3s and a long jumper in a 22-10 run to start the second half to put Winthrop ahead 44-28.
After George's two straight buckets and two free throws cut the lead to seven, Jenkins hit three straight free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt. He drilled another 3 less than a minute later and UNC Asheville never recovered.
UNC Asheville's tiny gym was crammed with people, prompting the public address announcer to plead for fans to "squeeze in and make room" about 15 minutes before tipoff.
Still, many fans ended up standing on a balcony overlooking one basket, and the gym's size seemed to make George look even bigger.
The tallest player in college basketball is also 360 pounds, and Winthrop immediately had to change its offense when George checked in three minutes into the game.
George's lumbering pace forces the Bulldogs to slow the tempo down, but his wingspan is so large he altered shots all over the court.
George, whose size is due to an overactive pituitary gland, tires easily and is limited to short stretches. He also couldn't stop Jenkins' blistering second-half shooting.