JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Winthrop answered a 15-0 second half run by East Tennessee State with a 14-2 run of its own and hung on for a 76-66 nonconference road victory Tuesday night.
The Eagles improved to 3-1 on the year as they ended a streak of nine straight losses on the road. ETSU fell to 0-4.
Winthrop led 48-34 in the second half when the Buccaneers reeled off 15 straight points to take a 49-48 lead with 12:46 to play in the game. ETSU’s Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, playing with four fouls, spurred the run with back-to-back 3-pointers and eight of the 15 consecutive points.
Junior Andre Smith answered the Bucs’ run with a 3-pointer to retake the lead, 51-49, which jump-started the Eagles’ own run. Moments later, Freshman Keon Johnson drove the lane for a scoop shot in traffic then followed with a 3 from the wing for a 58-51 lead.
Winthrop pushed the lead to as high as 14 points over the final seven minutes of the game behind Joab Jerome’s fourth 3-pointer of the game and two free throws by Johnson. Defensively, the Eagles held the Bucs without a field goal over five and a half minutes during the second half.
“You can just rely on that kid,” said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey speaking of Jerome. “I said this before. He’s not a guy that passes the eye test or he’s not going to wow you with his athletic attributes but you can just always rely on him. He’s our go-to-guy. We have some potent offensive players on this team. When our backs are against the wall and we need a big bucket we put the ball in his hands and let him go to work.”
Jerome led Winthrop with 18 points on 7 of 8 shooting and a career night behind the arc at 4 of 5, while also dishing out three assists. Jerome led four players in double figures as James Bourne had 12 points on 5 for 10 shooting with nine rebounds while Johnson added 11 and Smith had 10.
The Eagles finished the game shooting 49 percent from the field and 47 percent on 3-pointers. Winthrop has connected on at least eight 3-pointers in all four games this season.
The Eagles used a 10-3 run to end the first half for a 35-25 lead at the break. It was the first double-figure lead at the half since Winthrop’s 2012-13 opener versus St. Andrews and the first on the road since Feb. 2, 2012, at Radford when it led 38-17.
Winthrop led 25-22 after Jalen Riley drained a 3-pointer with 3:28 to play in the half. Smith answered with a 3-pointer from the wing as he pulled up from deep and was fouled in the process. Smith converted the free throw to complete the four-point play and the Eagles led 29-22 with just over three minutes until halftime. Riley made 1 of 2 free throws to cut the lead down to six and ETSU was given the ball immediately as the Eagles lost the rebound out of bounds. Gadsden-Gilliard tried to score inside but Larry Brown came over and blocked the shot that led to a transition basket on the other end when Brandon Vega dribbled straight down the lane for the uncontested lay-up.
Brown then made it 33-23 with a jumper the foul line, but then had to leave as he was bumped during his jumper and fell hard to the floor. A couple of possessions later, ETSU’s Isaac Banks had a stick back to make it 33-25 with 1:26 left. Winthrop scored on the other end with a lay-up by Bourne for another 10-point advantage that held to the break.
Winthrop played 12 players in the game. Vega finished with nine points while Tevin Prescott scored five points and had three rebounds.
Hunter Harris led ETSU with 18 points on 7 of 9 shooting while Gadsden-Gilliard added 16 points and Riley chipped in with 12.
Winthrop returns home from its two-game road trip to take on Virginia Intermont on Saturday at 4 p.m. as part of a doubleheader with the women‘s basketball team that takes on William & Mary at 1.