There might be an even closer connection between Chris Holtmann and Pat Kelsey than just their common Ohio roots.
“We’ve actually somewhere along the line had some family ... my cousin married his cousin,” said Holtmann, the Gardner-Webb men’s basketball coach, who brings his Runnin’ Bulldogs (10-9, 2-3 Big South) down to Rock Hill on Wednesday night to face Kelsey’s Winthrop (7-10, 1-4) team. “So, I don’t know if that makes us related or not.”
The two coaches will put family ties aside, no matter how tenuous, at Winthrop Coliseum. Both teams need a win at a time when they aren’t playing great defense. Winthrop (62.2) and Gardner-Webb (60.6) entered conference play with the two stingiest scoring defenses in the league, and while they still maintain those rankings, it’s largely because of their nonconference efforts.
The Bulldogs, who are 1-7 on the road this season and have lost 10 straight Big South away games, are surrendering 70 points per and allowing opponents to shoot 48 percent from the field. Winthrop’s foes are hitting 45 percent of field goals and scoring 67 points per game. Both are unhealthy increases compared with the teams’ nonconference stats.
“That’s where I’ve been most disappointed,” Holtmann said of his team’s defensive field goal percentage.
The Bulldogs are 24th in the nation in defensive turnover percentage, forcing opponents to cough up the rock on nearly a quarter of possessions. Holtmann said turning opposing teams over is the one defensive chore his team has done consistently this season.
Winthrop also had defensive success in the nonconference slate, holding the likes of Ohio to 49 points on the road was one of the standout performances. But it’s been a different story in league play.
Winthrop junior Joab Jerome said one struggle has been “the consistency thing. I’m sure (Gardner-Webb) preaches that consistency on defense, like how we preach defense over here.” Neither team has achieved the level it would like over extended periods.
Obviously, much more is on the line in league play, but there is also increased familiarity scouting-wise. It’s much easier for Winthrop to sneak up on a nonconference foe from halfway across the country than a school like Gardner-Webb, a two-game foe every season located just over an hour away. With such intimate knowledge of teams throughout the league, consistency and actual production under pressure become the difference-makers.
“I don’t think there’s an easy one in the league, and I don’t think there’s one, maybe with the exception of Charleston (Southern), where you’re saying ‘Hey, if we don’t play well, they could clearly beat us pretty good,’ ” Holtmann said.
Uniform production has been lacking for both Winthrop and Gardner-Webb in January. Kelsey’s team has lost four out of its five games during a prickly patch in the schedule. Winthrop’s Big South opponents so far are a combined 17-8 in league play; remove Presbyterian from the equation and they’re 16-4.
Gardner-Webb’s Big South games have been decided by an average of 4.6 points, while its last two contests have been decided at the buzzer. After beating Coastal Carolina on a last second tip-in on Jan. 16, the Bulldogs lost to Radford last Saturday on a 30-footer at the buzzer.
“It’s been the highs and lows that you get in a season, and we’ve had them all in one week,” said Holtmann on Tuesday.
Gardner-Webb and Winthrop both had slow starts in losses Saturday. The Bulldogs trailed Radford 30-8 at one point, while the Eagles overcame a 12-point second half hole to get within one of Campbell, before ultimately losing by four. A familiar inconsistency reared its head again in both instances. Perhaps, these two teams are more related than they realize.
Bret McCormick 329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T