MONTEVALLO, Ala. – In Saturday's first round NCAA Southeast Regional Tournament showdown between Lincoln Memorial University and King College, the Tornado sought out redemption for their two previous losses at the hands of the Railsplitters. King went blow for blow with LMU and led by Eddie Piccinini's career-high 32 points, gave the fifth-seeded Railsplitters all it could handle. After fighting back from a five-point deficit at the half, a late break by LMU handed King an early exit in a very memorable, first NCAA Tournament game in school history. The final score was King 60, Lincoln Memorial 67.
Post-game press conference (Coach George Pitts, Brandon Goss, Eddie Piccinini)
Down by five at the half, junior guard Eddie Piccinini (Orlando, Fla.) put the team on his back and with early assistance from senior Brandon Goss (St. Louis, Mo.) took the lead away from LMU and called it their own with a 6-0 run out of the gate. Piccinini came out of the locker room with a hot hand and hit his first four long-range attempts of the second half. Desmond Johnson missed a bunny under the bucket where Piccinini began his takeover with a three from the right wing, drawing King within two points, 31-29. King took its first lead of the second half when after a Cam Carden miss from deep, Goss drove the left side of the lane on the next possession and created an and-one opportunity, converting the three-point play to put King up 32-31 near the 18-minute mark.
From that point until under two minutes remaining, no team separated itself by more than three points as both teams jostled for the lead. Many of King's key players were in foul trouble early in the game and led to combinations of players unseen by many throughout the season as well increased LMU shooting percentages with additional inside looks.
Once King had caught up and retaken the lead early in the second half, the game saw an additional 11 lead changes and nine times where the game was tied.
The game became incredibly intense in the final four minutes after King retook the lead, 53-52, after Piccinini converted a pair of free throw attempts. Vincent Bailey drove the left side of the lane and put up two points to take back the lead, and soon committed the team's 10th foul of the half to send senior center Lio Gedeon (Marsh Harbor, Bahamas) to the line for two shots. Gedeon split the pair to tie the game at 54 points, before Brian Hewitt hit two more freebies to give King the lead for the final time of the night, 56-55.
Lincoln Memorial began heating up from behind the arc, hitting two of their final three three-point attempts of the night. After Brandon Armstrong hit his second long-range shot of the game, King's struggles from the free throw line began. Down two, Piccinini cut the lead in half by splitting a pair of free throws, 58-57. Michael Fortune had an opportunity to regain the lead after he was fouled by Armstrong, but missed both attempts.
The momentum shifted into LMU's corner when Cam Carden took a pass from his left and nearly seven feet off the arc put up a rainbow as the shot clock wound down, sinking it to give the Splitters a 61-57 lead with 1:08 to go. So began the fouling game, but only Piccinini hit any of the team's last three three-point attempts before the game grew out of reach.
Twenty-two of Piccinini's 32 points came in the second half where he went 5-of-7 from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from deep. The junior set a new career-high with his 32-point performance, outdoing a 30-point night he had against Barton College on Jan. 21.
The story of the first half was summarized by each team's first half shooting statistics. Each team struggled from behind the arc, leaving it up to play in the paint and free throws to draw the picture of a 31-26 halftime score.
Piccinini led the Tornado at the half with 10 points on three layups after cutting through the LMU defense and using the window as his friend. He hit one of the Tornado's two three pointers in the second half, though King was cold until his make at 6:48.
The Tornado went 2-for-14 from distance in the opening 20 minutes, but their opponents also struggled shooting from long range. Lincoln Memorial took 10 chances from deep, only converting one early in the contest.
King and Lincoln Memorial matched each other in number of field goals and threes made in the opening session, but the difference leading to the five-point LMU halftime lead was made from the line. Of their 31 first-half points, LMU converted 12 from the charity stripe after forcing King to commit 14 team fouls, putting key players Brian Hewitt, Logan Lyle, and Lio Gedeon in foul trouble early. The trio played with three and four fouls for much of the contest. Only Hewitt fouled out with 45 seconds to go in the game.
In a game that much attention was given to rebounding, LMU held a plus-eight advantage in the rebounding battle, the smallest margin of their three meetings this season. King pulled down more offensive rebounds than LMU, 10-8, and scored twice as many second-chance points as the Splitters (8).
The loss brings an end to the season for the Tornado, who finished the year with an overall record of 23-8. They were crowned Conference Carolinas West Division and Regular Season Champions (14-2) en route to earning an at-large bid to this year's NCAA National Tournament. It also concludes the career of five seniors including Drew Rednour, Brent Thomas, Lio Gedeon, Brandon Goss, and 1,000-point scorer and all-time steals leader Brian Hewitt.