ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Kenny George and Bryan Smithson scored 19 points each as top-seeded UNC Asheville downed fourth-seeded Liberty, 75-57 in the semifinals of the Advance Auto Parts Big South Conference Tournament at Justice Center Thursday night.
The Bulldogs (23-8) advanced to the Big South Conference championship game for the first time in five years. They will take on second-seeded and defending BSC champion Winthrop on Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
The victory by Asheville was its 23rd and set a new school record for victories. Senior guard K.J. Garland added 17 points. George recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 11 rebounds.
Liberty (16-16) was led by Alex McLean with 18 points, while TeeJay Bannister contributed 13 points and five assists. B.J. Jenkins contributed seven assists and eight rebounds.
The Bulldogs took control of the game midway through the second half. Liberty got a fast-break basket from Anthony Smith to give the Flames a 43-42 lead at the 14:50 mark as Liberty rallied from a six-point halftime deficit.
Asheville proceeded to go on an 11-0 run to take the lead for good at 53-43. The run began with four points from Garland and ended with a trey from Smithson at the 10:43 mark.
Liberty clawed to 60-55 on two free throws from Bannister with 4:06 left. However, Asheville finished the game on a 15-2 run to seal the victory. The Bulldogs went 9-of-10 from the free throw line in the final four minutes.
In the first half, Liberty sprinted to an early 16-9 lead on back-to-back treys from Jenkins and Bannister.
George kept the Bulldogs in the game with 14 first-half points as he went 5-of-6 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the free throw line. Liberty led 27-24 late in the first half on two free throws from McLean. Asheville finished the half on a 9-0 run to roar to a 33-27 halftime lead. Garland hit a 3 to tie the game at 27-27. George hit two free throws and scored on a dunk to push the lead to 31-27. Reid Augst scored on a lay-up to give the Bulldogs a 33-27 halftime advantage.
Asheville shot 61 percent (25-of-41) from the field. It marked the 20th game this season the Bulldogs have shot at or better than 50 percent this season from the field. The home team limited Liberty to just 37 percent (19-of-52) shooting from the field. Asheville controlled the backboards, 38-19.