Hopeful for a 3-0 start in the Big South for the first time since 2006-07, the Winthrop men’s basketball team hosts Gardner-Webb Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. at the Winthrop Coliseum.
Winthrop has won two straight and is 8-6 on the year after last Saturday’s 85-68 victory over Charleston Southern, the preseason favorite to win the South Division in the Big South. The Eagles’ 17-point victory was the largest margin of victory in a league game under second-year head coach Pat Kelsey. Gardner-Webb is off to an 0-2 start in the conference and 7-10 overall after suffering three straight losses.
In the victory over the Bucs, the Eagles drained 15 threes, the most in a game by a Winthrop team since a Dec. 4, 2006 game at then 12th-ranked Wisconsin. It was the fifth time this season and the sixth time under Kelsey that the team has hit 10 or more in a game. Prior to last season, the Eagles had only hit 10 or more in a game a total of four times in the previous five seasons.
Saturday, the Eagles were without the services of senior Joab Jerome, who was injured the during a Friday practice, while freshman Keon Johnson, the team’s leading scorer through the first 13 games, finished 0-for-5 against the Bucs.
Juniors Andre Smith and Keon Moore, along with senior Christian Farmer, put on a shooting display as each hit a career-best five 3-pointers. Moore and Farmer were 5-for-7 while Smith was 5-for-9. The Eagles are averaging 8.5 threes per game, which ranks third in the Big South and 22nd nationally. Smith is 49th nationally with 2.79 threes per game. At the team’s current rate it has a chance to finish in the top-five all-time in the program’s history for made threes.
Johnson remains the team’s top scorer at 12.4 points per game, but after Moore’s performance against CSU, the Eagles now have four players scoring in double-figures. Smith is second with 11.8 per game while Jerome is scoring 11.5. Moore is now averaging 10.8 on the year, 17 per game over the last four and is coming off a career-high 23 points against CSU, his second 20-point game in the last two weeks.
Tevin Prescott added 13 last Saturday, his second straight game in double figures. The Eagles are 6-0 this season when he scores 10 or more points.
Winthrop leads the all-time series with the Runnin’ Bulldogs 12-6 and is 7-3 against them since their arrival in the Big South. The Eagles have won two of the last three meetings and seven of the last nine but fell 65-52 the last time these two teams met back in February in Boiling Springs, N.C. Winthrop has won four straight against Gardner-Webb at the Winthrop Coliseum.
Gardner-Webb is just 1-7 on the road this season against a tough schedule that included games at Xavier, Missouri, Northwestern, Duke and Georgia. The lone road victory came at The Citadel.
Redshirt senior Naji Hibbert leads Gardner-Webb in scoring at 12.8 points per game and is the top threat from behind the arc. Sophomore Jerome Hill is enjoying a nice season at 12.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, and he shoots 53 percent from the floor. Hill posted 18 points and 11 rebounds in the last meeting against the Eagles to help his team to victory. He did most of his damage at the foul line going 10-for-13.
Junior Donta Harper is also averaging double-figures at 10.4 and is second on the team with 20 steals. He spent the last game in foul trouble and finished with two points but had 15 two games ago in a loss to UNC Asheville.
In both of Gardner-Webb’s losses to open up league play its opponent shot a combined 55 percent and each shot over 60 percent in the second half. It also allowed a total of 76 points in the paint.