With a host of guards rotating in and out of the lineup on a nightly basis, Campbell men's basketball hopes depth at the position propels them to an NCAA tournament bid this week.
BUIES CREEK — Campbell men's basketball fans have become accustomed to outstanding individual feats from the guard position after watching former standout Chris Clemons light it up, especially during the postseason.
The current Camels team is using a different Clemons (Ricky) to accentuate a 'Three-card Monte' style backcourt that features a new player every game.
"I think we got the best guard play in the conference. It works in our favor having that depth, just to keep guys rotating," Ricky Clemons said after No. 3 Campbell took down sixth-seeded Gardner-Webb, 63-57, at home Monday and advanced to the Big South Championship semifinal round.
Clemons, a Rolesville native, and fellow starting guard Jordan Whitfield combined for 27 points and seven assists, while Messiah Thompson added eight points and four assists off the bench to clinch the Camels' eighth straight victory, a program record for its modern era.
"Us three have great chemistry on the court. It's like we always know where the other is gonna be," Clemons said of the Camels trio.
Whitfield, a Millbrook High alum, had a team-high 18 points, including a transition trey in the second half (off an assist from Thompson) that gave the Camels their biggest lead, 47-42, with just under nine minutes to go.
Thompson, who had been averaging double figures in the six matchups leading up to Monday, hit a triple at the 3:18 mark to give CU back the lead after they endured a minutes-long drought.
"Guard play, in my opinion, is gonna win every time," Whitfield said.
"That's big for us, to come up in those situations how we did. It shows a lot of poise and a lot of toughness from our end."
Poise and toughness became a factor with just under a minute remaining with Campbell up two.
Clemons chased down Gardner-Webb guard Jordan Sears, who ended with a game-high 20 points, and poked the ball loose before the potential tying layup attempt which pleased the dozens of Camels fans allowed to attend for the first time this season.
"His [contributions] might not show up as much in points, but he's really making a huge impact on our team," Campbell coach Kevin McGeehan said of the former walk-on.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior had both of the Camels' steals on the night and says he considers himself a jack of all trades, but has gained respect for his ability to make it tough for high-scoring players.
"I focus on the defensive end, that's where I excel," Clemons said.
"They put me on the best player of every opposing team and I take pride in doing my job on them, making sure they don't get going."
Up next, Campbell travels to No. 2 seed Radford for Thursday's semifinal round.
The Highlanders handed the Camels their last loss back on Jan. 20, but Whitfield says his group is confident for a different outcome now it's at full strength.
"We're showing what guys on the team knew all along ... hopefully we can continue to stay healthy and we'll continue to play our best basketball," Whitfield said.
Thursday's semifinal matchup from the Dedmon Center in Radford, Virginia is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN+.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.