By Bret McCormick
Charleston Southern ended Winthrop's men's basketball season Thursday by surprise defending and rebounding, blue collar details more often associated with the Eagles. Winthrop held the Bucs to 28 percent shooting from the floor, but was out-rebounded 45-28 and only hit 4 of 28 3-pointers in a 54-47 Big South Conference tournament second round loss at the HTC Center in Conway, S.C.
I really am excited about the way we won this game, said CSU coach Barclay Radabaugh afterward. This is different for us. A lot of character, a lot of toughness by our guys.
The two teams split their regular season meetings. Winthrop (14-17) prevailed 70-65 on Feb. 13 in Rock Hill when the Bucs (18-11) only hit 3 of 27 3-pointers, but Thursday the tables were turned as the Eagles went cold from the field. Joab Jerome led Winthrop, the South Division's No. 5 seed, with 15 points, but in a game with so many missed shots 70 between the two teams combined Charleston Southern's advantages in offensive rebounding (13-4) and second chance points (16-2) proved critical.
That was the difference in the game, Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said. We held one of the elite scoring teams in our league to 28 percent shooting. So we got them to miss shots, but we let them get a lot of them back.
Winthrop's front court was hobbled. 6-foot-9 sophomore James Bourne injured his mediate cruciate ligament in the overtime first round win over Radford and didn't play against Charleston Southern, while the team's leading rebounder Larry Brown labored through 16 minutes with a broken bone in his wrist that was presumed to have ended his season last week. He finished with 2 points and 1 rebound.
There was one guy making shots during a game built on bricks. Bucs senior Mathiang Muo led Charleston Southern with 15 points on 5 of 11 3-point shooting, and 11 rebounds.
As a captain and a senior, I have to make sure I provide for my team, said Muo. Today the team wasn't hitting shots; I had to make shots.
Standout Bucs point guard Saah Nimley was limited to just 7 points on 1 of 13 shooting, but he made a difference with his ball-handling and distribution. Winthrop's big men hedged on the maze of perimeter screens the Bucs set numerous times, leaving big guys guarding Nimley one-on-one. The 5-foot-7 first team all-conference performer took advantage by using his quickness to get by the big man, before drawing a second Winthrop defender and finding an open teammate near the basket. Nimley only finished with four assists, but the Bucs missed a number of open looks he created, and also got to the foul line 21 times. Nimley wasn't credited with assists on those plays, but he also didnt turn the ball over once in a game where he touched it almost every Charleston Southern offensive possession.
I don't care what his stat line says. He effects the game in so many ways. He's so dynamic and fast, he requires so much attention, said Kelsey.
Winthrop broke out to a 7-2 lead after a Reggie King up-and-under, a Gideon Gamble 3 and Steve Johnson's dunk. But Charleston Southern reclaimed the lead with around 8 minutes left in the first half, Nimley knifing into the lane and picking out a wide open Cedrick Bowen for a flush and an 18-16 Bucs' lead.
Winthrop only scored three field goals in the last 9 minutes of the half and the Bucs, the No. 1 seed from the South Division, took advantage to build a 31-22 halftime cushion. In a 17-6 Charleston Southern spurt during those last 9 minutes, nine of the Bucs' points came from the charity stripe as Nimley picked apart the Eagles and put his teammates into situations where Winthrop had to foul.
Compounding Winthrop's problems on the defensive end was 1 of 12 shooting from the 3-point arc. Charleston Southern kept the Eagles out of the lane, a ploy that paid off during an off-shooting night for Kelsey's crew.
Just give credit to Charleston Southern, Jerome said. They contested a lot of our shots.
A second half fightback never really materialized for Winthrop. They got within one at 41-40 when Gamble rattled in a 3 and Christian Farmer converted three foul shots with 11 minutes, 27 seconds left in the game. A bucket and two free throws by Arlon Harper pushed the Bucs' lead back out to five points and Winthrop, unable to generate offense, never got any closer.
This might be the best we've defended all year. We got in our stance and worked, Radabaugh said.
In the last 2 minutes, Charleston Southern played championship-caliber defense, forcing an errant triple try from Gamble and an off-balance 3 from Farmer that clanged away, and with it, Winthrop's hopes of an upset.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T