Derek Staton, Jordan McCain and Craig Hayes combined for 22 points during a 24-4 run that started late in the first half as East No. 2 seed Mount Olive pulled away for a 74-48 victory over West No. 3 seed Lees-McRae in the first round of the 2012 Conference Carolinas Men's Basketball Tournament Tuesday at Kornegay Arena. Hayes finished with a game-high 20 points, Staton added 19 points and McCain scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half to send the Trojans to the semifinal round Friday at West No. 1 King.
Tuesday's victory also gives the regionally eighth-ranked Trojans their seventh 20-win season in the last nine years. Mount Olive has won 12 of its last 13 games, starting with a win over Lees-McRae January 14 at Kornegay Arena. The Trojans improved to 12-0 at home this season.
Mount Olive (20-7) trailed 26-25 when Kendall Hargrove's offensive rebound on his blocked reverse layup attempt set the wheels in motion for the Trojans' game-breaking run. Hargrove got the rebound on the right baseline and kicked the ball out to Staton, who hit a three-pointer from the left wing with 4:05 left in the first half to put Mount Olive ahead to stay.
Mahamed Ibrahim followed with a layup and Staton added another three-pointer with 90 seconds left to extend the Trojans' lead to 33-26. After Staton finished a fast break with 1:01 remaining as he scored eight of Mount Olive's last 10 points of the half. DeAndre Tillman's putback with 25 seconds left ended Lees-McRae's drought and pulled the Bobcats within 35-28 at the break.
After Hayes and Lees-McRae's Asad Lamot traded baskets at the start of the second half, McCain put together his own 8-0 run to stretch the Trojans' lead to 15 points. Hayes scored the final two baskets of the scoring run to give Mount Olive a 49-30 lead with 12:30 left to play. The margin never fell below 17 the rest of the way.
The margin reached 20 points for the first time after Hayes' three-point play with 8:03 remaining made the score 54-34. The Trojans took their biggest lead at 74-45 on Caleb Henderson's layup with 34 seconds left. B.J. Battle hit a three-pointer on Lees-McRae's final possession to cap the scoring.
The early part of the contest had the makings of a shootout as three-pointers by Hayes, Ibrahim and Staton gave Mount Olive a 14-9 lead less than five minutes into the game. But the Trojans went scoreless over the next three minutes as Lees-McRae (9-17) tied the game 14-14 on D.J. Brown's three-pointer.
Mount Olive was up 20-17 when Brown hit another three-pointer to tie the game with exactly nine minutes left before halftime. Dory Hines put the Trojans back on top with a pair of free throws, but Lamot's three-pointer with 6:04 left in the half put Lees-McRae ahead 23-22, the Bobcats' first lead since scoring the first basket of the game. Jeremiah Henry's free throw with 4:31 remaining broke a 25-25 tie and put Lees-McRae back in the lead, but the Bobcats would be held scoreless for the next four minutes as Mount Olive pulled away.
The Trojans won the battle of the boards 40-25 as McCain pulled down a game-high eight rebounds. Hargrove, Hayes and Hines each finished with seven rebounds. Staton, who was 7-for-11 from the field and 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, dished out six assists. Hines had five assists and three steals.
Brown led Lees-McRae with 14 points off the bench. Lamot finished with eight points and five assists.
Mount Olive seeks its third conference championship in the last five years after winning the title in 2008 and 2010. The Trojans will be playing a semifinal round game away from home for the first time since 2007, the last conference tournament before the format changed to higher seeds hosting each round instead of a single site for the "final four."
West Division champion King held off East No. 4 seed Coker 69-65. The Tornado defeated the Trojans 80-60 in the two teams' only meeting this season January 7 at Bristol, Tenn.
Friday's tip-off is 7 p.m. at Bristol. The winner advances to Sunday afternoon's championship game against the winner of Friday's other semifinal between East No. 3 Barton at East No. 1 Queens. The tournament champion earns an automatic bid to the Southeast Regional of the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Championship.
Mount Olive has made seven NCAA II Tournament appearances in the last nine years. The Trojans won the East Regional in 2005 and advanced to the Elite Eight.