2011-12 Men's Basketball Review: Camels enjoy successful return to Big South Conference

Rico Ferguson
(photo by Will Bratton)
Rico Ferguson (photo by Will Bratton)

Despite falling short of its goal of qualifying for post-season play, Campbell University enjoyed a successful men's basketball season in 2011-12 when it returned to the Big South Conference. 

Picked 9th in the pre-season poll of Big South head coaches, the 2012 Fighting Camels finished 3rd in the league with a 17-15 overall record and 11-7 conference mark.  After spending 17 years as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference, the Camels returned to the Big South (of which they were a charter member from 1983-94).  CU swept two-game series from two-time defending regular season champ Coastal Carolina as well as Winthrop, which won 9 league titles in the preceding 13 years.

Not only did the Camels earn the program's highest seed in a conference tournament since 1996, fans responded by jamming Gilbert Craig Gore Arena.  Five of the top 10 single-game crowds in the 4-year history of the 3,095-seat facility came during the 2011-12 campaign including a pair of games that topped the 3000-attendance mark.  Campbell led all Big South schools in home game attendance (2020) during conference play.

Since moving into Gore Arena before the 2008-09 campaign, Campbell has produced a 40-16 (.714) record at the building, including an 11-2 mark in 2011-12.  The Camels broke or tied 23 Gore Arena records during the year, including most points scored in a game (103), half (58) and largest victory margin (48) in a 103-55 dismantling of Methodist.

Over the past four seasons, the Camels have won 62 games – the most in a 4-year span in the program's Division I history – and compiled a 42-36 (.538) mark in regular season league action.

The Camels knocked off a BCS conference member school (Iowa) for the second-straight year, swept the two-game series from defending league regular season champ Coastal Carolina, and finished 11th in the nation in field goal percentage (.484), 15th in blocks (5.2) and 20th in assists (15.5).

Head coach Robbie Laing's Fighting Camels got off to the fastest start (8-1) in the program's Division I (since 1977-78) era and earned the program's highest seed in a conference tournament since 1996.  In mid-December, the Camels were ranked for the first time ever in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll, which has been compiling its weekly listing for 13 years.

The Camels defeated East Carolina for the second-straight time in Buies Creek with a 76-74 triumph over the Pirates.  The 2nd-largest crowd (3028) in Gore Arena history saw five CU players score in double figures, led by freshman Trey Freeman, who tallied 20 points and made all 12 of his free throws.

Campbell's 77-61 victory Nov. 23 at Big Ten member Iowa marked the program's second win over a BCS conference school in the last two years.  On Nov. 20, 2010, CU won at Auburn 61-54.  At Iowa City, the Camels shot 62.2 percent from the field and held the Hawkeyes to 36 percent shooting. 

Campbell's only setback in its first 9 games was a loss at nationally-ranked Creighton in the championship game of the Dale Howard Classic.  At Creighton, Eric Griffin hit career highs of 29 points and 14 boards against the eventual Missouri Valley Conference tournament champion Blue Jays.

The Camels dropped a narrow 87-81 decision at eventual Sweet-16 participant North Carolina State on Dec. 29.  Leading 56-54 with 13:12 remaining, CU nearly upset the Pack for the 2nd time in the series behind Darren White's 25 point-effort.

CU extended its school-record mark for double-digit victory totals to seven seasons, the longest such string of success in the program's Division I era (since 1977-78).  Along the way, the Camels battled through injuries to key players.  Only Darren White and Marvelle Harris played in all 32 games.  Starters Lorne Merthie (9 games/knee), Trey Freeman (3 games/concussion), Eric Griffin (1 game/hand) and Rico Ferguson (one game/foot) all missed action due to injury.

First-team all-conference among many honors for Eric Griffin

After ranking among the most-accurate shooters and leading shot-blockers in the country, senior forward Eric Griffin was named to the Big South all-conference first-team.  He was also chosen first-team All-District 3 by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and first-team all-state by the North Carolina Collegiate Sports Information Association.

The 6-foot-8 native of Orlando, Fla., was also named the CollegeSportsMadness.com Big South player of the year and chosen by CollegeHoops.net to its 5-man Big South all-conference unit.

He averaged 16.8 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Camels with a .610 field goal percentage.  He ranked sixth in the nation in shooting and set a single-season school-record with 73 blocks.  His .559 career field goal pct. is also a new school record.

In only two varsity seasons, Griffin finished third on Campbell's career blocked shots (134) list.  He produced 17 career double-doubles, including 12 as a senior.  In addition, he was a semifinalist in both the ESPN Dunks of the Year competition and State Farm Dark Horse Dunker race. 

During his senior season, Griffin produced 5 of the top 7 blocked shots performances by a Big South player this year, including career-high 6 at Iowa.  He topped all Big South players with 7 games of 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds and set a school senior class (Division I era) record for rebounds (268).

He also earned a place on the Dale Howard Classic all-tournament team after he averaged 23.3 points, 12.2 rebounds and shot 75 percent from the field in four games.  At Iowa, he scored 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked a career-high 6 shots.  Two nights later, he hit career highs of 29 points and 14 rebounds in a loss at 25th-ranked Creighton.

Griffin was one of 64 seniors nationwide chosen to participate in the 2012 Portsmouth Invitational, the annual showcase of the country's top graduating players.  He averaged 11.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks over 3 games against the likes of Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh), Matt Gatens (Iowa), Kim English (Missouri) and Garrett Stutz (Wichita State).

Freeman earns Big South freshman of the year and Mid-Major freshman All-America and honors

Trey Freeman was named Big South Conference freshman of the year and to the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Freshman All-America Team.  The 6-foot-2 Freeman led all Big South freshmen in scoring (13.9), free throw percentage (.871), field goal accuracy (.437), assist-turnover ratio (1.59) and minutes played (32.03), while ranking 2nd in assists (3.83).

A point guard from Virginia Beach, Va., Freeman led the conference and ranked 26th in the nation in foul shooting.  Overall, he finished sixth among Big South leaders in assists, fifth in assist-turnover ratio, 8th in minutes and 14th in scoring.

In addition to being the leading vote-getter on the Big South all-freshman team, Freeman was named to the Big South all-conference 4th team by College Sports Madness.  He was one of 25 players selected to the 2012 Mid-Major team by CollegeInsider.com, which produces the weekly Mid-Major Top-25 poll.

Freeman scored in double digits 23 times in 28 games, including five, 20-point efforts.  He scored a season-high 28 points in a 96-82 win over Liberty (Dec. 1), tallied 22 in a 62-57 triumph over Charleston Southern (Feb. 2) and had 20 (including 12-of-12 from the line) in Campbell's 76-74 victory against East Carolina (Nov. 14).

He opened the year by setting a school record of 29-straight free throws made, a mark he broke in January and February when he hit 35 in a row from the line.  On the year, he made 101 of his 116 foul shots to set a school record for free throw accuracy.

Freeman recorded the 2nd-highest scoring game by a Camel freshman in his collegiate debut with a 22-point effort on Nov. 11, 2011 vs. Houston Baptist.  Only Clarence Grier (25 points at East Carolina on Nov. 26, 1983) has scored more points in his freshman debut for the Camels since the program moved to the Division I ranks in 1977-78.

He was named Big South freshman of the week three times during the year.

White chosen to Big South second team

In his first year in a Camel uniform, wing guard Darren White made an immediate impact on the team and the Big South Conference.  The 6-foot-4 native of Danville, Va., who earned Colonial Athletic Association all-rookie team honors in 2010 at James Madison, finished 5th among league scoring leaders (16.8), 4th in field goal percentage (.520) and 8th in blocks (1.06).

A transfer from Midland (Texas) Junior College, White scored in double figures 28 times in 32 games, including 10 contests of 20 or more points.  He scored 33 points in a game twice (setting a Gore Arena record in the process) – against North Carolina A&T in CU's first outing in the Dale Howard Classic – and vs. Methodist.

White set a school junior class record for points (536) in a year, a total that is tied for the 8th-highest in CU senior college (since 1961-62) history and 4th-most in the Division I era.  He nearly missed a triple-double with 22 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and 8 assists in a win over VMI, setting a CU Gore Arena rebounding mark in the process.

He was chosen Big South player of the week twice by CollegeSportsMadness.com, the second time following a 25-point (18 in the second half) performance in CU's 87-81 loss at NC State.  White was selected for Big South monthly all-league teams by CollegeHoops.net in November, December and January.

Merthie is 25th Camel to score 1000 points

Senior Lorne Merthie became the 25th player in Campbell senior college history to break the 1,000 career point barrier.  The guard from Sanford, Fla., passed the milestone on Senior Night at Gore Arena (Feb. 9) when he led CU with 14 points in a 67-58 win over Winthrop.

A 6-foot-2 guard, Merthie missed 17 games over his junior and senior seasons due to knee injuries, but finished his career ranked 4th in school history in 3-point field goals made (226) and attempted (556) and 3rd in 3-point accuracy (.406).

Merthie was named Big South player of the week after leading the Camels to 3-straight comeback wins.  He scored 19 of his season-high 21 points in the second half at Radford, two days after tallying 14 points at Winthrop.  He also had 14 in the win over VMI.  In Big South regular season games, Merthie ranked 5th in the league in threes per game (2.31) and 3-point percentage (.407).

During his junior season, Merthie was named MVP of the Global Sports Hoops Showcase, during which the Camels knocked off Southeastern Conference member and tourney host Auburn.  He was the 2009 Atlantic Sun Conference freshman of the year.

Quick Hits

Including an 82-68 triumph over Houston Baptist on Nov. 11, 2011, CU has won its last six home openers, including all four at Gore Arena.

CU matched the greatest rally to win a game in the Coach Robbie Laing era when the Camels rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to defeat East Carolina on Nov. 14, 2011 at Gore Arena.  The Camels reeled off a 20-4 run midway through the second half in their second win over the Pirates over the last 3 meetings.

Campbell broke the century mark in a game for the first time since Feb. 8, 2007 when CU defeated Methodist 103-55 on Dec. 10, 2011 at Gore Arena.

Former Camel NAIA All-American Sam Staggers, who led the team to a runner-up finish in the 1977 national tournament during its final year before joining NCAA Division I, was inducted into the Campbell Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 21, 2012.

Robbie Laing collected his 100th head coaching victory on the Division I level on Feb. 7 in an 81-75 win at Coastal Carolina.

Senior guard Amir Celestin concluded his career ranked 10th on Campbell's all-time assists list (250) and 7th in career games played (115).

Sophomore guard Rico Ferguson ranked 14th among Big South leaders in assists (2.77) and led the team with 37 steals.  He scored a career-high 19 points in CU's 96-82 win over Liberty (Dec. 1, 2011).

Sophomore forward Marvelle Harris ranked 10th among Big South leaders in blocked shots (0.97 per game) and 17th in rebounding (5.8).  In only two seasons, Harris has 78 career rejections, which stands 9th on CU's all-time list.

Nine different players scored in double figures for the Camels during the 2011-12 season, including Andrew Ryan (career-high 15 at Northwestern State) and Antonio Kalpic (10 vs. East Carolina).