MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- Caleb Haynes has had a flair for the dramatic the last few weeks and the sophomore forward came up big again for the Covenant men's basketball team on Friday evening. Haynes' putback with 0.3 seconds gave the Scots an 81-80 victory over North Carolina Wesleyan in a USA South Tournament semifinal inside Boydson Baird Gymnasium.
The win propels Covenant (18-9) to the USA South Tournament championship game on Saturday night. The Scots will play the winner of Maryville-Methodist in the final at 6 p.m. inside Boydson Baird Gymnasium on the campus of Maryville College.
Haynes' putback capped a wild series of events in the final minutes of Friday's contest. Covenant led 72-67 with four minutes remaining, but an 11-2 run by N.C. Wesleyan gave the No. 1 East seeded Battling Bishops a 78-74 lead with 1:58 to go. Patjo Twagirayezu made a 3-pointer after a Scots timeout, and Bailey Spragg followed with a steal and layup to give Covenant a 79-78 lead with 1:04 left.
After each team produced empty possessions, N.C. Wesleyan's Chris Braswell made a short jumper with eight seconds left. Berto Dryden pushed the ball up the floor and found Haynes in the paint. However, Haynes missed his first attempt, but followed his shot and made the putback as time expired.
The referees added 0.3 seconds back on the clock, giving N.C. Wesleyan one last chance. The Bishops threw the ball the length of the floor, but Twagirayezu was there to intercept the pass as the buzzer sounded.
It was the second go-ahead basket in the final seconds of a game for Haynes in the last few weeks as his tip-in with 3.1 seconds left gave Covenant a 68-66 win at Berea on Feb. 7.
Saturday will mark the second time in three seasons that Covenant has made the USA South Tournament championship game. The Scots defeated LaGrange 101-92 in overtime in 2016 to claim the program's only conference tournament title.
Haynes tallied a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds, while Twagirayezu had a team-high 17 points to go with six rebounds. Dryden, James Mitchell and Will Crumly had 12 points each and Spragg finished with nine rebounds, 10 assists, and four steals.
Covenant opened up a 12-point lead in the first half after going on a 14-1 scoring run. A Spragg 3-pointer capped the run and gave the Scots a 30-18 edge with 6:13 left in the half. N.C. Wesleyan went on a run of its own in the period to briefly tie the score before a Mitchell Hollis 3-pointer gave Covenant a 38-35 lead at the break.
Neither team was able to pull away in the second half as both led by six points at one time in the period. Down 57-52, Covenant went on an 8-2 run, with triples from Crumly and Mitchell during the stretch, to grab a 60-59 lead with 9:24 left. The teams traded leads over the next few minutes until the final four-minute stretch of the contest.
Robert Wilson had a game-high 23 points with nine rebounds for N.C. Wesleyan (16-11), while Braswell finished with 20 points. Adrian Moore added 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Bishops shot 44.9 percent (31-of-69) from the field, but just 6-of-21 from deep.
Covenant ended the night connecting on 43.5 percent (30-of-69) from the floor with 15 3-pointers. The Scots dished out 24 assists on those 30 made field goals.