Four seniors will be honored by Winthrop men’s basketball on Saturday when the Eagles host UNC Asheville in the regular season finale. Torrell Priest, Shola Diop, Reggie King and Gideon Gamble will all move on from Rock Hill after this spring, but Saturday at 4 p.m. they’ll get one last moment in the limelight in front of the Winthrop Coliseum crowd.
“I’m really proud of the leadership they’ve exhibited this year,” Kelsey said Friday. “All four of them have really led in their own way.”
It will be Kelsey’s first Senior Day experience as a head coach. While he doesn’t have four-year-deep relationships with the players, three of whom were recruited by predecessor Randy Peele, one season has been trying enough for Kelsey to appreciate the contributions each of the four made. The Eagles are 10-4 on their home floor and want to improve that record on Saturday.
“It’s a little bit extra special,” said Kelsey. “You want those guys to have a great final legacy of playing on this tradition-rich floor.”
Jostling for seeding: Winthrop is locked in as the South Division’s No. 5 seed, but its opponent in the first round of the Big South Conference tournament, which begins next Tuesday, is far from determined. Campbell, VMI and Radford are all tied for second in the North Division. Winthrop lost to each in the regular season.
Adding spice to Saturday’s matchup in Rock Hill, UNC Asheville is in the thick of a battle for the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the South Division. The Bulldogs looked like a sure lock for at least the No. 2 spot after thumping VMI 90-79 on Feb. 8 to improve to 9-2. But Eddie Biedenbach’s team proceeded to lose the next four games, including three in conference action, to fall back into the chasing pack.
At the head of that pack was the Big South’s other set of Bulldogs, Gardner-Webb. Chris Holtmann’s team has won its last six in a row and nine out of 10 to move into second place in the South Division and within one game of first-place Charleston Southern. The Bulldogs swept the Bucs this season, so a Charleston Southern loss coupled with a Gardner-Webb win would give Holtmann’s team the South Division title.
Does Bourne reveal identity? Looking at offensive efficiency ratings for the Big South, there is only one Winthrop Eagle in the top-30, sophomore center James Bourne. The 6-foot-9 Virginia native leads the league in true shooting percentage at 64.2, but Bourne doesn’t show up in the Big South’s field goal percentage rankings because he doesn’t have enough attempts.
Bourne’s taken just 95 shots this year, an average of 3.3 per contest. Gardner-Webb’s Kevin Hartley, second behind Bourne in true shooting percentage, has 201 attempts. Granted, Hartley is a 6-foot-6 post player that shoots very accurately from 3-point land, but Winthrop’s inability to get Bourne more touches in the paint may be partly indicative of their struggle to break down halfcourt defenses.
The Eagles are last in the Big South this season in assists per game (9.6) and only average 46 assists per 100 field goals (313th nationally). Point guard Andre Smith is a scorer first, but was forced into a ball-handling position by a season-ending knee injury to likely starter Brandon Vega in August.
Compounding the problem, the team’s best creator, forward Joab Jerome, had to shift his game further into the paint after power forward Larry Brown was lost for the year with a broken bone in his wrist. Jerome has led the Eagles in scoring the past six games, but his assist average dropped from 3.5 in the first 10 conference games to fewer than one in the past six contests, and Winthrop became more of a create-your-own-shot offense in the process.
With Vega returning from injury and point guard recruit Keon Johnson joining the Eagles next year, it will be interesting to watch Bourne’s numbers. He seems to be the team’s bellwether for determining if they’re creating easy baskets in halfcourt offense.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T