Winthrop out-scored Appalachian State 10-3 in the last 3 minutes of Sunday's men's college basketball game to pull out an 80-72 win at the Winthrop Coliseum.
The win was no Picasso, but the Eagles showed the necessary gumption to improve to 6-2, and 5-0 at home for the first time since the 2006-07.
"We're really deep and that kind of gives us more energy to come out and hit the shots we need to hit," said senior Joab Jerome, who scored five of the nine late points and also made a pair of staunch defensive plays.
Winthrop led by as many as 19 in the first half, but Ty Toney's two foul shots cut the Eagle lead to 70-69 with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left in the game. From there, Jerome hit a 3, made a steal that led to a Jarad Scott free throw, then made two foul shots, before another heady defensive play led to an Andre Smith steal and two more freebies from the charity stripe.
"We have a lot of deficiencies," said Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey, "but the one thing we don't have a deficiency of is toughness in that locker room. Our guys are always gonna play hard; we don't throw a parade for that kind of thing."
Jerome led the Eagles with 20 points, freshman Keon Johnson added 15 and Keon Moore contributed 11 off the bench. Sunday's was a fourth loss in five games for the Mountaineers.
"I thought they came out and hit us in the mouth early," said Appalachian head coach Jason Capel. "I'm proud of the effort to fight back after spotting them 19. We had some mental breakdowns, which allowed them to seize the momentum back in the second half."
Appalachian State fell to 2-7 on the year despite roughing up Winthrop on the boards 40-31, including 14-10 on the offensive glass.
"We spent the better part of the last four days making sure that our guys were cognizant that they had to block out every single shot and that's what they hang their hat on," said Kelsey. "We wanted to hold them to seven or less offensive rebounds and obviously they doubled that."
Kelsey's team made up for the rebounding disparity by getting to the foul line constantly. In a game with 51 combined fouls, the Eagles shot 40 free throws, while the visitors attempted just 23.
"With these new rules, you have to play defense with your feet, not your hands," said Kelsey, whose team travels to Durham Wednesday to take on N.C. Central. "We came out of the half and they were in the bonus before the 16-minute media (timeout)."
Capel wouldn't be drawn on his exact thoughts about the difference in foul shots attempted by the two teams.
"That's a loaded question that everybody in here knows I can't answer," he said to chuckles from folks gathered in the Coliseum media room afterward. "My theatrics on the sideline, I think that answers the question right there. I think we're all trying to learn the new rules; all I ask for is try to be consistent. If you call something on one side, call it on the other."
The Eagles took advantage of the quick-to-whistle officiating crew, and free throws carried them through several offensively lean stretches of the game.
"We want to put foul pressure on people," said Kelsey. "I think we did a better job throwing the ball in the post today. I don't think we were as efficient or effective as we need be, but you can't be a one-trick pony. You can't just be a team that's gonna beat you from the perimeter."
Beating Winthrop from the perimeter was never in the visitors' game plan. Appalachian came into Sunday's game as the NCAA's 351st-best 3-point shooting team (out of 351 teams) and they struggled again from distance, hitting just 7 of 18. But Tab Hamilton hit 6 of his 10 3-point tries, part of his Mountaineer-high 20 points, to keep the visitors competitive.
Appalachian's only lead of the game came on Mike Neal's blow-by for a bucket and a 2-0 score 40 seconds into the game. Winthrop blasted the Mountaineers over the next 8 minutes though, building a 33-14 lead with about 11 minutes left in the first half. Jerome scored seven points during the spurt and Moore hit a pair of 3's, including one, plus the foul, from the corner off a Jarad Scott pass.
But Winthrop only hit two shots from the field in the final 11 minutes, 5 seconds of the half, enabling Capel's team to crawl back into the contest before the break. Hamilton hit a couple of 3's during a 21-4 run that got the Mountaineers within two, 37-35, with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left in the half.
Appalachian entered Sunday averaging 16.5 offensive rebounds per game, and the Mountaineers out-rebounded the Eagles 22-10 in the first half, including 9-1 on the offensive glass, one way to render poor shooting unimportant. Mountaineer hips slamming into Eagle sides were more not-so-gentle remunders that there is much to work on for a budding Winthrop squad.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T