Winthrop side-stepped UNC Asheville’s fullcourt trap Saturday evening in a 70-61 win on Senior Night at the Coliseum. The Bulldogs sprung a fullcourt press on the Eagles in the two teams’ first meeting this season, a 69-56 Asheville win, but Winthrop was ready for Eddie Biedenbach’s ruse the second time around.
“They really disrupted our rhythm offensively with their fullcourt pressure,” said Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey, referencing the earlier game in Asheville on Feb. 6. “We were back on our heels and couldn’t get into a flow offensively.”
Winthrop (13-16, 6-10 Big South) prepared Thursday and Friday for the Bulldogs’ 2-2-1 press, one they only rarely utilize. Asheville’s pressure was top-heavy, though, and once Eagle dribblers were able to knife through double teams they often found 2 and 3-on-1’s at the scoring end.
“We just really focused the last few days in practice on beating the press to score,” said Kelsey. “We shot 50 percent from the floor and I think a big chunk of those were shots at the rim.”
The win, the Eagles’ 11th at home, was all the sweeter with seniors Gideon Gamble, Torrell Priest, Shola Diop and Reggie King honored before the game for their efforts in the Winthrop program.
“We worked hard all week and we challenged each other to get a win and send these seniors out with a win,” said King, who finished with a career-high six points, seven rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers.
Joab Jerome led Winthrop in scoring for the fifth straight game, posting a double-double of 15 points and 10 boards, while Andre Smith (14), Christian Farmer (14) and James Bourne (13) all contributed double figures.
The Eagles shot 50 percent from the field, while Asheville (16-15, 10-6) only shot 32 percent, and just 3 of 17 from 3-point range. The visitors missed a number of close-range chippies, notably 6-foot-10 center D.J. Cunningham, who was just 3 for 10 from the field, despite attempting almost all of his shots within five feet of the cup.
“We were sloppy with our offense,” said Biedenbach. “Sloppy making layups. Some of them were off-balance but you got to put the ball in the basket. Coach (Kelsey) had them prepared and mentally right.”
The win sends the Eagles into the Big South Conference tournament Tuesday in Myrtle Beach with a buzz. Winthrop will battle Radford at noon in the event’s first round.
“Momentum is a powerful thing,” said Kelsey. “I told our guys how the week’s gonna go: you’ll play Tuesday, you’re off Wednesday, you play Thursday, you’re off Friday, you play Saturday and Sunday. Now, that’s the last time I’m going to talk about winning four games in a week. All we’re going to focus on for the next 48 hours is that (first) game.”
It was a smidgen surprising that Winthrop led 33-29 at the break, considering the visitors’ second chance opportunities. UNC Asheville attempted nine more field goals than the Eagles, largely because of a 9-1 offensive rebounding advantage for the Bulldogs. Winthrop shot better, though, hitting 11 of 21 shots from the floor, led by Farmer’s 4 of 6 effort. He scored 13 of his 14 in the first half, epitomizing the Eagles’ offensive efficiency advantage over UNC Asheville.
Cunningham had three blocks in the early exchanges of the game, but at the back end of the Bulldogs’ press, he wasn’t as effective. As part of a quick jump out of the gates, Bourne beat Cunningham down the floor for a transition bucket to put Winthrop up 12-3. The visitors clawed back into the game with an 8-0 run. Keith Hornsby hit a floater in the lane, before Will Weeks scored in the paint, plus a foul. Cunningham fueled the spurt with his three rejections during the sub-3-minute span that cut the home side’s lead to 12-11.
Farmer then went to work, scoring seven points in several minutes as the Eagles stretched their lead to 22-18 with 7 minutes, 55 seconds left in the half. A pair of Sam Hughes’ free throws tied the score at 24 all, but Farmer then knocked down a trio of foul shots after Hornsby clipped him, and followed with a right corner 3 in front of the Asheville bench to put the Eagles up 32-29.
The Eagles stymied the visitors in the second half, holding the Bulldogs to 10 of 36 shooting (27.8 percent). UNC Asheville only hit 1 of its first 14 shots in the second frame, during which the Eagles scored eight consecutive points to build a 41-29 lead.
Team supports Diop: Gamble, King and Priest were joined at mid-court by family and friends, but Diop, hailing from Australia, didn’t have any family in town. He said earlier in the week that his parents had to choose due to the expense of plane tickets, and opted to attend his graduation instead. So, all of Diop’s teammates joined him as he received his framed jersey from athletic director Tom Hickman.
“We stress about being a family every day,” said King. “Joey (Jerome) stepped up and took the initiative, let everybody know that we won’t let Shola walk out there by himself. We’re family. It meant a lot; it was touching.”
|WINTHROP 70, UNC ASHEVILLE 61|
Percentages: FG .318, FT .615. 3-Point Goals: 3-17, .176 (Littlejohn 2-3, Hornsby 1-5, Hughes 0-2, Atkinson 0-3, Meyer 0-4). Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 4 (Cunningham 4). Turnovers: 14 (Atkinson 4, Meyer 2, Weeks 2, Hornsby 2, Cunningham 2, Nwannunu, Hughes). Steals: 13 (Atkinson 4, Hornsby 2, Cunningham 2, Nwannunu, Meyer, Weeks, Littlejohn, Hughes). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .500, FT .682. 3-Point Goals: 5-14, .357 (Smith 3-4, Farmer 2-6, Gamble 0-4). Team Rebounds: 1. Blocked Shots: 4 (Gamble, Farmer, Jerome, King). Turnovers: 17 (Jerome 7, Gamble 4, Smith 3, Diop 2, Johnson). Steals: 4 (King 2, Bourne, Gamble). Technical Fouls: None.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T