HICKORY, N.C. -- Lincoln Memorial built a 16-point halftime lead, and then held off a late Wingate rally to defeat the Bulldogs 68-58 in the championship game of the 2011 Food Lion South Atlantic Conference men's basketball tournament on Sunday afternoon at Catawba Valley Community College.

The 12th-ranked Railsplitters win their first-ever Food Lion SAC title and improve to 27-2 overall, while Wingate falls to 19-10 on the season.

The Railsplitters receive the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs will have to wait until later Sunday night to see if they receive an at-large bid to the tournament. The selection show can be seen live via webcast at 10 p.m. by going to ncaa.com.

Junior forward Desmond Johnson (Lynch, Ky.) led the LMU attack with 24 points and 10 rebounds. The SAC Player of the Year hit seven-of-14 shots from the field and 10-of-12 free throws, while also handing out a team-high four assists, earning All-SAC Tournament honors. Junior guard Darryl Garrett (Detroit, Mich.) added 15 points, while senior forward D'Mario Curry (Detroit, Mich.) had 12 points and five boards, earning SAC Tournament MVP honors.

Sophomore forward Odell Turner (Charlotte, N.C.) had 18 points and nine rebounds to lead the Wingate attack, hitting eight-of-12 shots from the field while earning all-tournament accolades. Junior guard Jaime Vaughn (Tallahassee, Fla.) added 12 points, four rebounds and three assists, joining Turner on the all-tournament squad.

The Railsplitters relied on their defense in the first half, holding Wingate scoreless for the final 3:33 of the opening stanza to stretch the lead to 14 points at halftime. Johnson hit a pair of free throws and a jumper to start the closing spurt for LMU, while junior guard Carlos Sanford (Durham, N.C.) added a three. Armstrong knocked down a jumper with three seconds remaining to give the Railsplitters a 36-22 halftime lead.

An alley-oop to Curry on the opening play of the second half put LMU on top by 16. The Railsplitters maintained their lead over the next few minutes, holding a 54-40 advantage with 12 minutes remaining in the game. The Bulldogs used a 9-0 run to cut the lead down to three. Junior guard Chase Smith (Upper Marlboro, Md.) drained a three to start the spurt, while Vaughn added with a three-point play to cut the deficit to six. A Turner free throw, followed by Turner layup made it 54-51 with 9:15 to go.

LMU got a big bucket from Garrett on the next possession, followed by a jumper from sophomore guard Cam Carden (Clearwater, Fla.) to push the lead back to seven. The Bulldogs cut the lead back down to four on a three from sophomore guard Paidrick Matilus (Boynton Beach, Fla.) at the 4:32 mark. The Railsplitters had the answer once again, scoring the next seven points to push the lead to 11. Five points in the stretch came via free throws, while Garrett added a layup in the run which made it 67-56 with 48 seconds remaining.

LMU shot 41.1 percent from the field, while holding a 40-28 rebounding advantage. The Railsplitters compiled 12 second-chance points, compared to Wingate's four. The Bulldogs shot 42.3 percent from the field, while knocking down five-of-18 from three-point range (27.8 percent). Lincoln Memorial also had a big advantage at the free throw line, knocking down 20-of-28 while the Bulldogs hit just nine-of-12 for the day.

Catawba College's Dominick Reid, who averaged 24.5 points in two tournament games, rounds out the All-Tournament team.

What they are saying:

Lincoln Memorial coach Josh Schertz:
To shoot poorly from the field, to miss free throws, and do things we normally don't do, it's like we told our guys in August, to build to a championship and you do that when you defend and rebound.

Both nights came down to the final two or three minutes, and all year this team has had a tremendous will to win. That will to win shows itself in the final minutes of games. The key tonight was Brandon Armstrong coming in and getting a piece of that rebound and he taps it back out and we get 35 more seconds, and then Darryl Garrett makes the play at the end.

I'm proud of the kids. 27-2 speaks for itself. Now its time to get back to work and get ready for the NCAA tournament and try to represent ourselves and the conference in the best possible way.

All year we shot the ball fairly well. You wouldn't think it from the last two nights being 5-for-29 (from 3-point range), but we were plus 12 on the backboards. They probably scored six or seven straight times when they made that runback in the second half. Besides that, I thought we defended really well for 33 of the 40 minutes.

(NCAA Tournament) It's going to be a lot of fun to play in the NCAA Tournament. There's probably 250 Division II teams that have shut it down when we hit the practice floor on Tuesday. We're one of 64 left playing. When you get to the regional, you're talking about eight really good teams. It's going to come down to who can finish games. It's going to be what team in the final two or three minutes can make plays, and we've got confidence we can do that.

Brian Good
We struggled taking care of the ball in the first half. We made 11 turnovers in the first half. I really thought that was the difference in the spread, otherwise I think we would have been right there. We defended well, we held them to 41 percent. We didn't shoot the ball great, but we did a good enough job in that area. You just can't make 11 turnovers in a half. They were anxious turnovers, poor decisions, maybe just a little too excited and our tempo got a little fast. It's pretty understandable for a bunch of guys who have never been in that situation before.

We've been a team that has found the open man, whoever that may be, and capitalized on it just about all year. Odell (Turner) and Jaime (Vaughn) have led us in scoring most nights. That third, fourth and fifth guy has been a rotation. I felt we couldn't get that next guy going tonight. I thought Quan (Alexander) started to look like he may be that guy, but his foul trouble kind of broke his rhythm a bit, Chase (Smith) struggled a little bit and obviously Paidrick, as well as he shot it last night, just couldn't get one to go tonight. It's going to be tough to win a basketball game with 58 points.