Winthrop buried Charleston Southern beneath a barrage of 3-pointers on Saturday to improve to 2-0 in the Big South Conference for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
The Eagles’ 85-68 win, their 13th straight at home against the Bucs, was well earned. They held Charleston Southern, one of the best distance shooting teams in NCAA, to just 9 of 27 from 3-point range, including 2 for 12 in the second half when Winthrop pulled away. Pat Kelsey’s team consistently turned successful defensive possessions into offense, taking advantage of Charleston Southern’s 14 giveaways to out-score the visiting Bucs 28-11 in points off turnovers.
But it was the home team’s sizzling 3-point sniping (15 of 28) that really tipped the contest. Winthrop (8-6, 2-0) junior Keon Moore led all scorers with 24, including 5 of 7 from beyond the arc, and junior Andre Smith added 19, while senior Christian Farmer poured in 15 in just 14 minutes on the court. Those three combined to make 15 of 23 shots from 3-point range, an onslaught the abnormally cold-shooting Bucs (7-8, 1-1) couldn’t withstand.
“They gave us some of our own medicine, hitting 15 3’s,” said Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh. “That’s a good night for anybody. They stepped up and made them. We tried to play some zone early and that didn’t go too well for us because they made 3’s.”
That Winthrop won with leading scorer Keon Johnson shut out and third leading scorer Joab Jerome unable to play because of an ankle injury, suffered in Friday’s practice, only increased the value of the result. Johnson didn’t hit any of his five shots, but Moore, Smith and Farmer rendered the freshman’s tough afternoon a non-impact.
“I told everybody in the locker room that it was gonna take a collective effort, everybody coming out of their comfort zone, changing their roles,” said Kelsey. “And before I could even get those sentences out of my mouth, those guys start speaking up.”
Jerome’s absence, due to an ankle injury, was also softened by Tevin Prescott and Larry Brown. Prescott scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds, and Brown had what Kelsey called his best game in a Winthrop uniform, scoring 11 points and clearing eight rebounds. Prescott and Brown filled Jerome’s defensive role ably, guarding the 3-point-shooting big men that Charleston Southern has in the lineup, while Brown was a pest in the passing lanes with three steals.
“He was just everywhere,” said Kelsey. “Larry had some really tough assignments and he carried out his assignments flawlessly.”
Winthrop broke open a 42-38 game early in the second half. Kelsey and his staff stress winning “4-minute wars,” their way of breaking the game into more manageable chunks, and the Eagles crushed Charleston Southern in the first 4-minute war of the second half with a 12-2 run. Moore hit an early 3 that prompted Radebaugh to rip his jacket off while calling timeout. Afterward, Radebaugh was left to lament 28 points off turnovers and 15 second-chance points that Winthrop created.
“That’s 43 points that we caused by not boxing out and turning the ball over,” he said. “Can’t win a basketball game giving up 43 points. You’ve got to make them earn points.”
The stoppage didn’t help though. Moore scored in the lane, Smith turned a steal into a Brown slam and then Moore feathered in another triple for a 52-40 lead 3 minutes into the second half.
Moore said he found a rhythm by “Being aggressive on every catch. At the beginning of the game we weren’t when they were in the 2-3 zone. In and out of every huddles we continued to stress, catch it and be aggressive.”
While the Eagles continued to thrive from long range there was no mistaking a feeling that the Bucs had one more run in the tank, and they did, ripping off 11 points unanswered. Sheldon Strickland’s 3-pointer from the right corner cut the Winthrop lead to 54-51 with just under 14 minutes left. But Farmer soothed the crowd’s nerves with an immediate answer, drilling a step-back 3 to end a 4-minute stretch without a field goal and increase the lead to six.
Farmer, Moore and Smith all hit five 3’s in the game. Smith said he and Moore were in the Coliseum past midnight on Friday getting in extra shots. The work paid dividends Saturday.
“Sometimes you can generate open looks and they just don’t go down,” said Kelsey. “Jeez, to have three guys make five 3’s, I can’t remember three different guys hitting five threes in a game in my career.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T