N.C. Wesleyan guard Adrian Moore, left, drives to the basket as Averett guard Bradley Robinson defends Tuesday during the USA South Conference tournament first-round game at Everett Gymnasium.
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Telegram photo / Adam Jennings

N.C. Wesleyan guard Adrian Moore, left, drives to the basket as Averett guard Bradley Robinson defends Tuesday during the USA South Conference tournament first-round game at Everett Gymnasium.

Bishops use transition game to beat Averett for third time this season

By FOSTER LANDER

Sports Writer

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Averett coach David Doino turned quietly to assistant coach Cornelius Snow early in the second half and told him if the Cougars could just make Thursday’s USA South quarterfinal against N.C. Wesleyan a halfcourt game, that the Battling Bishops would have all sorts of trouble scoring.

No. 8 seed Averett couldn’t keep top-seeded N.C. Wesleyan out of transition – where the Bishops have thrived all year – for long stretches of Thursday’s contest. N.C. Wesleyan used a 22-0 run over a five-plus minute stretch midway through the second half to run past Averett, 81-66, at Everett Gymnasium.

N.C. Wesleyan, seeking its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2011, will face LaGrange tonight at 7 p.m. for a spot in the USA South tournament championship game against either Greensboro or Covenant.

The Bishops won their only meeting with LaGrange, 114-98, on Feb. 6.

When informed of the 22-0 run, Bishops coach John Thompson raised both eyebrows and chuckled.

“I did not know it was 22-0, because we’re so focused on possession-by-possession,” Thompson said. “The final score was not really indicative of how close that game was and how tough (Averett) played us in all three games this season. We just were fortunate to be able to build a big lead.”

Adrian Moore notched a career-high 30 points, including 13 during that 22-0 spurt. Moore also tallied six steals – five in the second half. Isaiah Alston, a freshman from Rocky Mount High, added 20 off the bench for N.C. Wesleyan (20-6 overall).

“Everything for us started on the defensive end,” Moore said. “We obviously like to get out and run, and we gamble sometimes, but that big stretch for us in the second half was because we played with great energy on defense.”

N.C. Wesleyan held Averett to 29 points in the second half. The Cougars shot just 1-of-16 from behind the arc and 26.5 percent from the floor overall after halftime; Averett finished 6-of-30 (20 percent) from 3-point range for the game.

The Bishops led, 39-37, at the break, though the lead changed hands 12 times in the opening 20 minutes.

“I think both teams came out ready to play, but (Averett) did, especially,” Thompson said. “You could see it in the body language and that sort of thing. They came here to win.”

Averett (15-11 overall), even as the No. 8 and bottom seed in the conference tournament, traveled to Rocky Mount knowing it had played two one-possession games against N.C. Wesleyan already this season. The Bishops won both meetings – 88-86 in overtime on Jan. 6 in Everett Gym, and 85-82 in Danville on Feb. 17 – but the Cougars knew they were not outmatched.

The Cougars’ biggest lead on Thursday in a stuffy Everett Gym was four, but Averett went stride-for-stride with N.C. Wesleyan. Bradley Robinson, who led Averett with 16, hit four 3s in the first half to pace the Cougars.

Averett would have led at halftime if not for Moore, who beat the buzzer with a few ticks to spare by draining a 3 from the top of the key.

“I felt like maybe I was a little more hyped-up than usual tonight, but it’s the conference tournament,” Moore said. “This group of seniors, we don’t want to let the No. 1 seed go to waste. We’ve had too great of a season to let it end easily.”

Averett opened the second half with three straight points for a 40-39 lead, but from there, N.C. Wesleyan broke it wide open.

Brandon Brown started the run with a 3-point play, and Moore followed with a steal and layup and then another steal; he missed the layup, but D.J. Weaver was fouled on a putback and made one of two free throws.

Moore then hit a midrange jumper and slapped the floor on defense. On the Bishops’ next possession, Moore hit a 3 from the wing in front of N.C. Wesleyan’s bench with 14:03 to play for a 50-40 Bishops lead, and he stuck his tongue out in celebration. Shannon Huff’s putback forced Doino, a Bishops assistant coach from 2007-14, to take a timeout, but it was of little help.

After the timeout, Moore picked the pocket of James Contreras and laid the ball in, then drove to his right in a Bishops halfcourt set and found Weaver in the corner for a 3-pointer, giving N.C. Wesleyan a 57-40 advantage.

Alston was huge off the bench of N.C. Wesleyan with 20 (10-15 FG), just shy of a career-high. Alston played just seven minutes in the regular-season finale at Methodist on Saturday, but Thompson said he encouraged Alston to keep doing his job, and that he would help the Bishops win a game by the time the season was done.

“He told me to be ready to go and to be patient,” Alston said. “It’s been an up-and-down season, but tonight it was good to have the ball go in the basket.”

Foster Lander can be reached at 407-9951 or flander@rmtelegram.com