It took a freshman to Winthrop back to where it almost always used to go — the NCAA Tournament.
DJ Burns scored 16 points, 12 of them in the second half, to lead the second-seeded Eagles to a 76-68 win over fifth-seeded Hampton on Sunday in the Big South Conference championship game.
It is Winthrop’s 11th tournament appearance — all since 1999 — but only the Eagles second in the past 10 seasons.
Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey blew a kiss to his wife and children and Hunter Hale threw the ball almost into the rafters as the buzzer sounded. Then the students, let in free at the university president’s declaration on Twitter, stormed the court.
Winthrop (23-10) took a 2-0 lead and then trailed for the next 26 minutes, falling as far behind as 15 points in the first half.
With Hampton (15-18) up 39-32 with 16 minutes to go, Burns took over. He scored 12 of Winthrop’s next 21 points on a combination of soft hooks and power spin moves.
His bucket with 7:47 left put the Eagles up 53-46. Hampton wouldn’t close within a possession the rest of the way.
Hampton’s Jermaine Marrow, the nation’s third leading scorer at 25 points a game, was held to 18 points. The senior played all but three minutes over the Pirates three tournament games, scored 32 in a quarterfinal win over Gardner-Webb and 36 in the semifinal win over top-seeded Radford.
Ben Stanley added 15 points for the Pirates. Stanley and Greg Heckstall, who had 16 rebounds, also played all 40 minutes for Hampton, who appeared to tire toward the end of the game.
Josh Ferguson had nine point and nine rebounds for Winthrop.
Bradley 80, Valparaiso 66
Darrell Brown scored 21 points and Elijah Childs added 17 to lead fourth-seeded Bradley to its 10th NCAA Tournament with a win over seventh-seeded Valparaiso in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game.
Ja’Shon Henry scored 16 points for the fourth-seeded Braves, Nate Kennell chipped in with 14 points and Ville Tahvanainen added 10.
Javon Freeman-Liberty paced seventh-seeded Valparaiso with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Bradley (23-11) claimed its fourth MVC title and became the ninth team in MVC history to defend its tournament crown
Valparaiso (19-16) led 48-42 with 14:27 left in the contest.
Bradley used a 7-0 run midway through the second half to go in front to stay, 56-51. Henry snapped a 51-all tie with a fallaway jumper. Tahvanainen then drilled 3-pointer to push the lead to five.
The Braves were a 15th-seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament and lost to Michigan State 76-65 in the opening round.
NCAA Automatic Bids
Belmont, Ohio Valley Conference
Bradley, Missouri Valley Conference
Utah St., Mountain West Conference
Winthrop, Big South Conference