The Andrew Rowsey Show will stay in town for at least one more performance.
Rowsey scored a game-high 34 points to lead No. 6-seeded UNC Asheville to an 80-70 win over No. 11 Liberty in the first round of the Big South men’s basketball tournament Wednesday inside The HTC Center.
And now the standout sophomore guard is Coastal Carolina’s problem as the No. 3 Chanticleers will host the Bulldogs in a quarterfinals matchup Friday night.
“A lot of guys, you take one thing away from them and it kind of jams them up. He just goes to the next thing, and there aren’t many guys like that,” Liberty coach Dale Layer said of trying to contain Rowsey on Wednesday. “He’s a special guy, special player.”
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Those 34 points tied for Rowsey’s second-highest output and marked his fourth 30-point game of the season. It was also just two points off the arena record of 36 points, shared by former Longwood standout Michael Kessens in the 2013 Big South quarterfinals and Reinhardt’s Quinton Wood against the Chants last season.
As for Rowsey, he did it efficiently – while hitting 9-of-15 from the field overall, 7-of-10 from 3-point range and 9-of-10 from the foul line – and he did it all over, draining one big 3 from about 30 feet early in the second half.
“I didn’t realize I was that far out until I actually shot it,” he said. “The basket felt pretty big tonight so I just kept letting it go.”
For all its struggles this season, Liberty (8-24) made it competitive for much of the game Wednesday night, but the Flames just couldn’t slow down the Bulldogs (15-15) or their high-scoring star.
The game was tied 30-30 late in the first half before Rowsey drained another 3 in the final seconds to send UNC Asheville into halftime with a 33-30 lead. That gave him 17 points at the break, and he was just getting warmed up.
The Bulldogs asserted themselves early in the second half as Rowsey scored eight points over three straight possessions, draining a long jumper just inside the arc before hitting a 3 from the right wing and then that long one from well behind the line. That gave UNC Asheville a 43-32 lead.
“I don’t want to ever have someone who shoots the ball like Andrew second-guessing whether he should shoot the ball of not,” Bulldogs coach Nick McDevitt said of giving his star the green light. “I think you can handcuff players when you do that. … I’ve seen him roll off some in practice where he’s shooting by himself where he’s way further out than that and it’s going down with regularity.”
Liberty later launched a 10-2 run while cutting the deficit to 47-44 on a David Andoh layup. A few possessions later Theo Johnson hit a 3 for the Flames to draw them to within 51-47 as they tried to stay in the game.
Joe Retic later hit a 3 for Liberty with 1:03 to play to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 73-66, but there would be no comeback.
Rowsey, who pushed his scoring average to 19.4 points per game with his performance, went to the foul line with 4.4 seconds left and the UNC Asheville fan contingent stood and cheered as he converted both free throws for his final points of the game.
“He’s really talented and he’s almost as talented when you get him off balance. He just scores in so many different ways,” Layer said. “… His ability to score at the free throw line separates him from everybody else. You can’t foul him, and when you do he’s a 92-percent free throw shooter. He just scores in a lot of different ways, he’s a winner and he finds whatever cracks there are.”
Andoh led Liberty with 21 points and 10 rebounds and Andrew Smith added 16 points and nine boards.
David Robertson chipped in 14 points for UNC Asheville despite a 2-for-9 shooting performance and Sam Hughes added 12 off the bench for the Bulldogs.
And now it’s time for round three between the Bulldogs and Chants. The home team won each of the regular-season meetings with UNC Asheville winning 75-65 and Coastal Carolina winning the rematch 68-56.
Rowsey scored just six points on 2-of-11 shooting in that last meeting after going for 17 in the first game against the Chants.
And the Bulldogs still haven’t beaten the Chants inside The HTC Center as Coastal Carolina has won the last four meetings between the teams in Conway.
“Coastal is good. They are,” McDevitt said. “We’re looking forward to playing them, but that’s a challenge. To beat them in here at their home facility is an even taller task. We’ve got to play well, but as we told our team, whoever wins this tournament is going to have to play good – not just survive and advance. I don’t think there’s a game where you can just play OK and survive and advance. … That’ll be the case on Friday. We’ll have to play really well to beat this team.