LEBANON, Tenn. – The top-seeded University of Pikeville is heading back to the finals of the Mid-South Conference Men’s Basketball Championship for the second straight season after Chris Cantino’s double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds pushed it past No. 4-seed St. Catharine 78-69 on Saturday.
The Bears (29-2) advance to Sunday’s championship game against either No. 2-seed Georgetown (Ky.) or No. 3-seed Cumberlands (Ky.) at 2 p.m. ET at Dallas Floyd Gymnasium.
Cantino wasn’t alone with a big performance as Elisha Justice added 16 points, five rebounds and three assists with four 3-pointers and Kenny Manigault shot 8-of-9 from the field to finish with 17 points. Keala King dished out a game-high five assists to go along with his 15 points.
Omar Skinner poured in game-best 25 points for the Patriots, followed by 15 from William Tolefree and Raymon Austin adding 12 points and 10 rebounds.
St. Catharine (18-12) outrebounded UPIKE 46-37 and was slightly better from the field at 43.3 percent compared to 42.6. The difference came from long distance with the Bears hitting five threes compared to a 1-of-12 showing from St. Catharine. Pikeville also hit 10 more free throws in the game and forced the Patriots into 13 turnovers with just three assists.
Looking to avoid another slow start in the postseason, the Bears got off to a hot start, getting three straight 3-pointers from Whitaker, Justice and King to take an 11-4 lead less than three minutes into the game.
Six minutes later the scoring had slowed down by UPIKE was still on top by seven after a basket by Cantino coming out of the first media timeout. King pushed the Bears’ lead to ten with another three, but it prompted a quick 5-0 burst from the Patriots to cut the deficit in half.
Pikeville’s lead stayed around five points for the majority of the half up until William Bailey knocked down a corner three to cut it to three with 28 seconds on the clock. Luckily for UPIKE Justice was hungry to answer, dropping in his third three of the half at the buzzer to give the Bears a 39-33 lead at the break.
After six minutes of even play, the Bears jumped ahead by nine on another Justice 3-pointer. St. Catharine wasn’t interested in going away though as Julito Hutchinson finished a layup through a foul and Skinner went coast-to-coast for two to cut the lead to five with 13:12 on the clock.
The Patriots getting back in the game seemed to wake up Pikeville as Manigault and Cantino went to work in the paint to help the Bears take their largest lead of the game yet at 65-48. With only six minutes left to mount a comeback, St. Catharine got started with an 8-0 run finished off by a Skinner slam.
Now holding a 65-56 lead, the Bears briefly got back in control by 13 on a layup from King, but the Patriots struck again with a second streak of 10 unanswered points to get within three at 69-66 with less than three minutes to play.
Manigault stopped the bleeding with a tough bucket in the paint on the next trip and the Patriots missed their next three shots, allowing three shots at the stripe to put UPIKE back up by eight. St. Catharine came up with just four more points the rest of the way as the Bears were perfect on their last four free throws to hold on for the win.
Pikeville improves to 15-11 all-time in the MSC Championship and 2-2 against St. Catharine in tournament play. The Bears are looking for their third MSC Tournament Championship in program history and first since the 2002-03 season.