CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With points coming at a premium, the second-seeded and No. 15 Railsplitters (28-5) rode a lockdown defensive effort and a dominant display on the backboards to defeat sixth-seeded Limestone (27-6) 70-64 and advance to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional championship game for the second straight season on Sunday night at the Levine Center.
Lincoln Memorial will face the winner of the Queens/Augusta game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, with the winner of that contest advancing to the Elite Eight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Lincoln Memorial trailed by as many as nine points in the second half and faced a 59-51 deficit with six and a half minutes left in regulation, but they closed on a 19-5 run to book its ticket to the Sweet 16.
The Railsplitters finished shooting 47.4 percent from the field and went 7-for-20 (35 percent) from 3-point range, but never could settle into a rhythm offensively, as the Saints’ activity and athleticism forced Lincoln Memorial to commit 15 turnovers and fall 23 points short of its per-game average.
Lincoln Memorial overcame its offensive deficiencies by holding Limestone to 37.5 percent shooting and a 6-for-23 (26.1 percent) mark from 3-point range, while also accounting for a massive 46-32 disparity on the glass.
Four different players finished with at least six rebounds for the Railsplitters compared to only one for Limestone.
Luquon Choice scored a team-high 22 points and added 10 rebounds, three assists and three blocks, but finished just 8-for-22 from the field and 4-of-11 from three. Cornelius Taylor attacked the rim at will to produce 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting, while Chris Perry produced 13 points and 12 boards.
Trevon Shaw chipped in 10 points with eight rebounds over 38 minutes of work. Redshirt-senior Paul Woodson contributed only two points to go along with six rebounds, three assists and three blocks, but was arguably Lincoln Memorial’s most valuable asset, as the 6-7 forward played a key role in slowing down Limestone’s dynamic duo of Shaq Dance and Shaun Stewart, who combined for 68 points in the Saints’ quarterfinal win over UNC Pembroke.
Dance produced a game-high 26 points on 11-for-25 shooting before missing the final five minutes due to a shoulder injury, while Stewart needed 21 shots to score his 16 points. After his 37-point outburst against UNC Pembroke, Woodson and company held Stewart 21 points shy of that mark on 6-for-21 shooting and a 1-for-7 effort from three.
Macoumba Kane was the only other Limestone player to reach double figures, finishing with 10 points and three rebounds.
Neither team could gain any separation in the early going until a jumper from Choice followed by a Deshawn Patterson triple gave the Railsplitters an 18-14 lead with 9:25 to go. However, the Saints reeled off eight unanswered points to take a four-point lead at 22-18 after a bucket from Stewart at the 7:25 mark.
Emanuel Terry briefly halted that run with a free throw, but a 3-pointer from Kenny Hairston gave the Saints a 25-19 lead with 6:47 left in the half.
The Railsplitters responded with a 9-0 flurry to pull ahead 28-25 on a basket by Perry with 3:49 to play in the half. Limestone answered back and took a 32-30 lead on a Dance triple and a free throw by Jerry Oliver, but back-to-back baskets from Perry and Choice put the Railsplitters back in front, 34-32, with 53 seconds left. Stewart made a free throw to cut LMU’s halftime lead to 34-33.
Both teams started ice cold in the second half, as Shaw broke a long scoring drought by both sides with a basket at the 16:37 mark, which gave the Railsplitters a 36-33 lead.
Lincoln Memorial maintained a one-point lead for the next passage until the Saints used a 10-0 run fueled by six points from Dance to build a commanding 48-39 lead with 13 minutes to go.
The Railsplitters answered right back with a 10-0 run of their own, kick-started by back-to-back triples from Choice, to regain the lead at 49-48 with just over nine minutes left.
Limestone scored nine unanswered points after that – with six coming from Dance – to pull back ahead 57-49 with seven minutes to play.
Limestone still led by eight at 59-51 on Dance’s last field goal of the game with 6:26 left, but the Saints would make just two more shots the rest of the way with Dance on the sideline with his ailing shoulder.
Lincoln Memorial still faced an uphill climb even with Limestone’s best player on the bench. With the Railsplitters trailing 60-54, Woodson came up with the biggest play of the game, scrambling on a lose ball following a missed 3-pointer and quickly finding Choice, who buried a contested 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 60-57 with five minutes left.
After Taylor tied the game at 62 apiece with a bucket at the 2:09 mark, Terry came up with another huge play, skying for an offensive rebound before burying a hook shot over his left shoulder to give the Railsplitters a 64-62 lead with 1:25 left.
Shaw all but iced the game on the next possession, making a fast-break jumper to extend the lead to 66-62. Stewart cut the deficit in half with a basket on the other end, but LMU went 4-for-4 at the charity stripe to ice the game down the stretch.
The Railsplitters will face the winner between Queens and Augusta at 7 p.m. on Tuesday for the Southeast Regional championship. The winner advances to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in Sioux Falls.