AKRON, Ohio -- On Sunday at South Carolina, the start of the first half proved to be the difference in a Winthrop loss.
On Tuesday night in cold and snowy Akron, it was the end of the first half that put the chill in the Eagles' game, and the Zips walked away with a 72-58 win.
It was another head-scratcher for coach Randy Peele, who is still trying to find some kind of identity for his offense after a 1-2 start, while holding the defense together enough to keep the Eagles in games.
Neither was very good in the final four minutes of the half, when Akron (2-0) went on an 11-2 run. The Zips got six straight points from Chris McKnight, including a dunk at the buzzer when the Eagles lost him at the back of their zone, and led 32-24 at the break.
That one little stretch seemed to take the starch out of the Eagles, who found themselves down between eight and 14 points most of the second half and unable to make the shots that could have sparked a comeback.
"No question," Peele said, when asked if the last four minutes of the first half were the difference.
"It was a grind-it-out game, and there were not a whole lot of easy baskets. But on their last six possessions of the half they scored five times. That's when the face of the game changed for us."
Nate Linhart, the only senior on a young Akron team, hit an open 3-pointer from the top of the key to start the run. The Zips got a couple of easy baskets off the baseline, then McKnight slipped down the middle of the zone for a layup and got the dunk after Winthrop's Charles Corbin put up a bad and quick shot in the lane with the game clock inside 10 seconds.
"We had that spurt at the end of the half," McKnight said, "and we came out with that same intensity to start the second half."
Akron scored the first four points of the second half to go up 12. Winthrop got no closer than six.
Linhart, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, hit some big end-of-clock shots. McKnight, at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, a tough matchup for the Eagles, finished with 13 and seven boards. Darryl Roberts came off the bench to get 17, with nine of those coming at the free-throw line late.
There were several key numbers from this one.
After giving up 86 at South Carolina on Sunday and 72 on Tuesday, the Eagles have allowed 70 or more in back-to-back games for the first time since January of 2007 and for only the second time in three seasons.
Linhart, McKnight and Nikola Cvetinovic combined for 36 points, 19 rebounds and 13-of-20 field goals.
Akron coach Keith Dambrot has had a go-to player the last few years, but this season he says "it may be by committee." The committee showed up against Winthrop.
Meanwhile, Corbin, Raymond Davis and Mantoris Robinson were a combined 3-of-16 from the field for seven points. Robinson had rebounds, but the 6-5 junior had his second two-point game in three outings. Corbin's lone basket was a 17-foot jumper.
The Zips also won the boards, 33-29, although Peele said it was a physical game and he "felt like we got pounded on the glass."
"Maybe," he said, "it was because they were so aggressive on the glass."
The Zips also got 15 more shots and had just seven turnovers compared to 17 for the Eagles. Akron got 21 points off the turnovers and had 12 second chance points.
Winthrop's offense was reduced to jumpshots, and they didn't get a single easy bucket in the paint.
That worked well early, when they made three of their first four 3-pointers to build an 11-5 lead. But when the jumpers stopped dropping, there was nothing else to lean on, and the Eagles got just seven offensive rebounds.
"I'm really concerned about our ability to score against the caliber of teams we're playing," Peele said. "Are we good enough to go on the road and score 65 points and win? The answer right now is no. We're still looking for an identity."
Cameron Stanley was a bright spot for the Eagles. He scored a season-high 17 points, hitting 6-of-9 shots overall, including 5-of-6 3-pointers. He shot with confidence.
Justin Burton dumped in 15, with five assists.
It gets no easier for the Eagles, who play at Davidson on Friday and N.C. State next Tuesday.
"With the schedule we're playing," Peele said, "we're not executing at the level we need."
Gary McCann • 329-4074