It’s standard for a basketball team to rah-rah it up at halftime about playing with more energy and effort, to talk a good game. It’s much tougher to actually floor-burn the elbows, follow through on a second half box-out.
Wednesday night against rival Coastal Carolina, Winthrop backed up the locker room talk with an energetic and effort-packed second 20 minutes en route to a 61-48 conference win. Eagle players and head coach Pat Kelsey credited the team’s reserves with sparking a third straight win at home.
“When you come off the bench, you pride yourself on not maintaining the status quo, but sort of raising the level of play when you come in,” said Kelsey,a bench player during much of his college playing career.
Reggie King and Shola Diop were two Winthrop (9-11, 3-5) bench players that upheld that sentiment Wednesday. Diop scored 7 points and added 6 rebounds in 18 minutes, while King didn’t score in 12 minutes, but produced several moments of intangible gold that revved up his teammates and a vocal home crowd and helped break open a tight game. He came off the pine early in the second half to spell starting point guard Andre Smith, who was shackled early with foul trouble, and immediately made an impact, pouncing on the floor for a loose ball and drawing two charges in a brief juncture that seemed to change a one-point game’s momentum.
“We got to give credit to Reggie King,” said Winthrop’s Derrick Henry. “He came in and set the tone defensively and that just changed the game.”
Henry led Winthrop with 15 points, while Smith added 14, hitting 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, including several key 3-pointers in the second half. Smith is 18 for 32 from 3 in the last six games.
“Andre is an elite shooter,” Kelsey said. “But it’s a different deal with the game on the line in crucial moments, and all of the shots he’s been making lately were under duress and in big moments.”
When Winthrop shots did miss, the Eagles were often first to the ball, crushing the Chanticleers (9-10, 4-4) on the glass 39-27, including 14 on the offensive end and a 25-13 advantage in the second half. That’s no little deal; Coastal is ranked in the top-25 nationally in rebounding margin.
“In the second half, we talked about the fact the physicality cannot go their way, and it did go their way,” said Coastal coach Cliff Ellis, whose team fell to 1-8 on the road. “This is the first time we’ve been beaten like this on the boards, so you have to give them the credit.”
The Eagles, who have won all three Big South games at home, also staunchly guarded Coastal’s Anthony Raffa, the second leading scorer in the Big South at over 19 points per contest. Raffa finished with 16, but 12 of those came in the first 10 minutes of the game.
“I was just playing my game,” he said about his hot start. “Kierre (Greenwood) was finding me, everything was going good.”
“The way he got going, I thought he was gonna’ have 74 points,” Kelsey said. “We challenged our guys at halftime. One of our keys was the known. Whose the known? and who do we have to make sure doesn’t beat us. And obviously, he’s the (second) leading scorer in the conference.”
Raffa was held to just two points in the second half, as the Eagle defenders clamped down on the senior shot-maker. Henry, one of several Eagles that took turns hassling Raffa, said the game plan was “not necessarily to deny him, but just make things tough for him.”
Both teams endured lengthy spans without field goals, making alternative sources of offense precious. In a game with 42 personal fouls, Winthrop seemed to take advantage the most, getting to the foul line 23 times and converting 18 of those. Coastal was only 6 of 11 from the charity stripe, a telling disparity in the end.
“I think it was one of those typical really physical Coastal-Winthrop games,” said Kelsey. “To get to the line that many times, but then to make 18 of them, is indicative of winning basketball.”
Each side went at least four minutes without a bucket in the first half, with Coastal Carolina enduring a crippling 7-minute freeze. Ellis’ team snapped out of its offensive coma with 44 seconds left in the half, Warren Gillis canning a pull-up jumper to send Coastal to the locker room with a 26-25 lead.
The Chanticleers’ scoring struggles continued in the second half as they went on another barren run. The visitors scored just four points in an 11-minute stretch spanning the two halves, but still crawled to within four points at 42-38 with 7 minutes remaining. But a put-back by Diop and a corner 3 from Smith launched an 11-3 run, and the Eagles stiff-armed the visitors from the Grand Strand, their seventh win in eight home games against Coastal.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032